Penn State's Jan Mahlert (84) makes a catch in the first quarter against Auburn at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in State College.

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No. 10 Penn State holds on to defeat No. 22 Auburn

Sean Clifford threw two touchdown passes Saturday as No. 10 Penn State topped No. 22 Auburn 28-20 in an exciting non-conference matchup in University Park, Pa.

The Nittany Lions (3-0) led throughout the second half, but the Tigers (2-1) drove to the Penn State 2 in the waning minutes. On fourth down, Bo Nix’s pass fell incomplete to Kobe Hudson, who got tangled up with Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker, but no flags were thrown.

After a punt, Auburn got the ball back on its own 38 with 45 seconds left. The Tigers got as far as the Nittany Lions’ 26, but Nix’s last-second pass down the seam was broken up by Brisker.

Clifford finished 28 of 32 for 280 yards, while Jahan Dotson hauled in 10 receptions for 78 yards and a score. Noah Cain and Tyler Warren rushed for touchdowns for the Nittany Lions.

Nix was 21 of 37 for 185 yards without a touchdown or an interception. Tank Bigsby carried 23 times for the visitors, accumulating 102 yards and two scores.

Penn State held a 14-10 lead at halftime and extended its cushion early in the third. Auburn fumbled on the first play of the quarter and, four plays later, Warren jumped into the end zone for a 2-yard TD.

The Tigers scored on their ensuing possession as Bigsby’s 6-yard plunge capped a 15-play, 75-yard march. A 43-yard field goal by Anders Carlson on the first play of the fourth quarter brought Auburn within 21-20.

Clifford’s 40-yard pass to Brenton Strange was the big play on Penn State’s next drive, which Cain punctuated with a 3-yard TD run with 10:48 to go for the 28-20 lead.

Following a touchdown pass from Clifford to Dotson late in the first quarter, Auburn came right back with a TD of its own — a 4-yard plunge by Bigsby to put the Tigers ahead 10-7 with 12:28 left in the half.

Penn State regained the lead with 1 1/2 minutes to play before intermission. The go-ahead drive encapsulated 14 plays and 91 yards with Clifford finding a wide-open Strange for a 2-yard TD.

–Field Level Media

Auburn Tigers wide receiver Demetris Robertson (0) runs the ball after a catch at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Auburn Tigers leads Alabama State Hornets 20-0 at halftime.

No. 25 Auburn romps past Alabama State 62-0 on record-setting day

Freshman Jarquez Hunter recorded the longest rush in school history and Georgia transfer Demetris Robertson and sophomore Tank Bigsby had big days as No. 25 Auburn overcame some early sloppy play for a 62-0 victory over Alabama State Saturday in Auburn, Ala.

Hunter dashed 94 yards late in the third quarter to replace Ralph Gwynne (92 yards in 1936) at the top of the school record book. Hunter finished with 147 yards on eight carries.

Robertson scored on touchdown catches of six and 28 yards and a 36-yard run and Bigsby ran for 122 yards as the Tigers (2-0, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) blitzed the Hornets (1-1, 0-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference) with a school record 35-point third quarter.

Bigsby went over the 1,000-yard mark for his career with a 24-yard run in the second quarter and clinched his sixth career 100-yard rushing game with a 51-yard sprint early in the third. He has rushed for 1,075 yards in 12 career outings.

Alabama State managed only 176 yards in total offense and had only three drives reach Tigers territory, including one that started at Auburn’s 43-yard line.

The Tigers blocked an Alabama State punt and field goal attempt with Nehemiah Pritchett returning the rejected field goal 80 yards for a touchdown. They also scored on defense on Roger McCreary’s 35-yard interception return.

After completing 20 of 22 passes for 275 yards in the opener, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix was the victim of several drops and finished 9-of-17 passing for only 108 yards before turning the game over to T.J. Finley late in the third quarter.

Alabama State played without its leading rusher, Ezra Gray, and Auburn was without backup running back Shaun Shivers, who scored two touchdowns in the opener. Alabama State coach Donald Hill-Ely told the SEC Network telecast that Gray had a “bruise” sustained in last week’s game, but no reason was given for Shivers’ absence.

This was the second straight week Auburn put up at least 60 points. The Tigers beat Akron 60-10 in Week 1.

–Field Level Media

Jul 22, 2021; Hoover, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Bryan Harsin speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at Hyatt Regency Birmingham. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Harsin era opens as Auburn hosts Akron

Bryan Harsin makes his Auburn coaching debut when the Tigers host Akron in Saturday night’s season opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It is the first of two anticipated tune-up games for Auburn before traveling to No. 19 Penn State later this month.

The unranked Tigers are big favorites over the Zips, who are coming off a 1-5 season and are picked to finish fifth this fall in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference. The Tigers host Alabama State, an FCS program, on Sept. 11.

Brought to the Plains after a successful six-year stint at Boise State, where he went 69-19, Harsin had to stay home two weeks in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He returned to practice Monday and doesn’t see his absence from the field as a major factor in preparing for the Zips.

“I’ve been able to watch practice live so I’ve got that, which has been great,” he said last week. “Actually, I’ve been able to see some things you don’t usually get when you have that bird’s-eye view.”

Junior quarterback Bo Nix and leading rusher Tank Bigsby are among seven returning starters on offense and linebackers Zakoby McClain, Owen Pappoe, and Chandler Wooten return on defense.

Nix has passed for 4,957 yards in starting the last two years. Bigsby rushed for 834 yards in 10 games as a freshman in 2020.

McClain was Auburn’s top tackler (113) in 2020, and Pappoe and Wooten have been named permanent co-captains for 2021. Pappoe had 93 stops last year but Wooten sat out 2020 over COVID concerns.

The Tigers lost a potential starter up front when defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell, left the team before fall camp and transferred to Florida. He had 19 career starts.

Akron welcomes back quarterback Kato Nelson and linebacker Bubba Arslanian. Arslanian had 74 tackles in just six games to lead the Zips. Nelson sat out 2020 after having shoulder surgery. He made 10 starts in 2019, passing for 1,820 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I’m feeling great,” Nelson said. “I’m healthy.”

Coach Tom Arth, who is 1-17 in two years at Akron, is hoping that the experience gained in last year’s abbreviated season pays dividends.

“Even though it was half of a traditional year, those six games were valuable to us in the development of our roster,” he said.

–Field Level Media

Oct 26, 2019; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive end Big Kat Bryant (1) sacks LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during the first half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn’s Big Kat Bryant, Daquan Newkirk enter transfer portal

The Auburn Tigers will have some rebuilding to do on the defensive line in 2021.

Defensive end Markaviest “Big Kat” Bryant and defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk, both seniors, announced Sunday they will enter the NCAA transfer portal, taking advantage of having another season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bryant, a team captain, thanked Auburn for support on his “developmental college journey” and said it was an honor to represent the school.

“I have decided it is in my best interest to enter the transfer portal in order to weigh my options for this upcoming season… & I am ready to DOMINATE! Let’s Go!!” Bryant wrote on Twitter.

Bryant finished 2020 with 17 tackles, including three sacks, and four quarterback hurries. In four years at Auburn, Bryant appeared in 49 games and amassed career totals of 56 tackles, 10 sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defended.

Newkirk stepped into a starting role for the Tigers in 2020, and finished the season with 28 tackles, including three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. After starting his career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he appeared in 30 games over the past three seasons for Auburn, totaling 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Auburn was 6-5 in 2020, and finished with a 35-19 loss to Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl. New head coach Bryan Harsin was hired on Dec. 22.

–Field Level Media

Jan 1, 2021; Orlando, FL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Blake Gallagher (51) and defensive back Brandon Joseph (16) combine to stop Auburn Tigers wide receiver Seth Williams (18) during the second quarter at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Northwestern beats Auburn to win Citrus Bowl

Peyton Ramsey threw three touchdowns and added another on the ground to lead No. 14 Northwestern to a 35-19 victory over Auburn in the Citrus Bowl on Friday afternoon in Orlando, Fla.

Ramsey finished 24-for-35 for 291 passing yards and contributed 50 rushing yards for the Wildcats (7-2), who won their fourth straight bowl game.

Bo Nix was 25-for-42 for 292 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers (6-5) before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an injury.

Northwestern dominated the first quarter, totaling 94 more yards than Auburn and scoring 14 points.

On the first possession of the game, the Wildcats paced down the field. Ramsey was a perfect 5-for-5 on the drive, finishing it off with a beautiful 35-yard toss to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for the first touchdown.

Later in the period, Ramsey had a couple of 19-yard completions to Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Riley Lees to keep the chains moving. Ramsey once again ended the drive with a touchdown pass, this time a six-yard swing to John Raine to go up 14-0.

Anders Carlson kicked two field goals in the second quarter for Auburn to go into the half down 14-6.

The Tigers cut the deficit to 14-13 in the middle of the third quarter when A.J. Hampton bit on a play fake, leaving Elijah Canion wide open. Nix found Canion for a 57-yard score.

Ramsey pushed the lead back to 21-13 with a 30-yard scramble for a touchdown near the end of the third quarter.

After stopping Nix on a QB sneak on fourth-and-short, Northwestern took over the game. Cam Porter ran the ball on all seven plays of the drive, going 50 yards and ending with a touchdown.

Ramsey added the final nail in the coffin by hitting Lees in the end zone for his third touchdown of the day.

With the win, Northwestern’s defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz earned his 400th career victory as an assistant coach. He had previously announced he was going to retire after the Citrus Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Tank Bigsby (4) runs the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Northwestern, Auburn get postseason rematch in Citrus Bowl

Eleven years to the day after facing off in a thrilling bowl game, the Auburn Tigers and No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats meet again on New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl at Orlando, Fla.

The teams played in the 2010 Outback Bowl, with the Tigers pulling out a 38-35 overtime victory. Current Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka completed 47 of 78 passes for 532 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions for the Wildcats.

Northwestern scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to tie the game, but the Tigers’ Wes Byrum kicked a 21-yard field goal in OT and the Wildcats were unable to equalize. Auburn went on to win the national championship the following season.

This year, the Wildcats (6-2) enter the bowl game coming off a 22-10 loss to No. 3 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Northwestern led the Buckeyes 10-6 at the half, but three second-half turnovers and a tired defense gave way to a potent Ohio State rushing attack.

“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make down the stretch in the fourth quarter to be Big Ten champions,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But to have the opportunity to represent the Big Ten in Orlando, we are ecstatic.”

The Tigers (6-4) haven’t played since Dec. 12, and in that time they fired head coach Gus Malzahn and hired Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has stepped into the interim head-coaching role for the bowl game.

“These guys have been resilient,” Steele said. “They’ve shown a lot of character, leadership and just the ability to adapt. We’ve actually had an additional bump in the road that we had a change at the top for us, which is something that’s hard on a football program. And so we’re going through that.”

Both teams have their conference’s freshman of the year.

Auburn running back Tank Bigsby was selected the Southeastern Conference’s top freshman after rushing for 834 yards on 138 carries in 10 games. He added 300 kick-return yards and 84 receiving yards for 1,218 all-purpose yards.

Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph won the Freshman of the Year award for the Big Ten, the first strictly defensive player to win the award since Deion Barnes in 2012. Joseph leads the nation with six interceptions.

The game will also be the last in the career of Northwestern’s defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who would reach 400 career wins if the Wildcats win the Citrus Bowl.

Hankwitz started his coaching career at his alma mater of Michigan and served as the defensive coordinator for Arizona, Western Michigan, Colorado, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Wisconsin before being hired by Fitzgerald before the 2008 season.

Hankwitz is a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the best assistant coach in the country, and Fitzgerald believes Northwestern’s success on defense starts and ends with Hankwitz.

“You look at my head coaching career here and our success, I mean Mike Hankwitz is in the DNA, the fabric, the architect, take whatever you want to say,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m just so grateful for him.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) makes a pass against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Nix, Auburn defeat host Mississippi State

Bo Nix ran for a touchdown and passed for another and Anders Carlson kicked three field goals as Auburn defeated Mississippi State 24-10 in an SEC game Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.

Nix’s touchdowns came in the fourth quarter after neither team produced a touchdown through the first three quarters. He completed 15 of 32 for just 125 yards, but Tank Bigsby rushed 26 times for 192 yards.

The Tigers (6-4) had two interceptions of freshman Will Rogers, who completed 30 of 51 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown. Mississippi State fell to 2-7 heading into its season finale against Missouri next week.

Auburn led 6-3 at halftime, but Mississippi State threatened to score on the first possession of the third quarter. The Bulldogs drove 53 yards, but Brandon Ruiz missed a 40-yard field goal.

On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Smoke Monday intercepted Rogers and returned the ball 31 yards to the Mississippi State 38. That set up Carlson’s 45-yard field goal, giving the Tigers a 9-3 lead with 4:28 left in the third quarter.

When Auburn finally put together the game’s first touchdown drive, it did so by driving 95 yards in 10 plays.

Nix’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams gave the Tigers a 16-3 lead with 10:03 remaining.

Lideatrick Griffin returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the Auburn 29. That led to Rogers’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Austin Williams to get the Bulldogs within 16-10 with 8:24 left.

However, Nix ran three yards for a touchdown and threw to Ze’Vian Capers for a two-point conversion and a 24-10 lead with 6:03 remaining.

Carlson kicked a 27-yard field goal that gave Auburn a 3-0 lead about midway through the first quarter.

Roger McCreary intercepted Rogers, giving the Tigers the ball at the Bulldogs’ 46, but on fourth and four, Nix threw an incompletion.

Mississippi State drove to Brandon Ruiz’s 41-yard field goal, tying the score with 5:27 left before halftime.

Later in the half, Nix drove Auburn 37 yards in seven plays and Carlson kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Tigers a 6-3 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA;  Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) drops back to pass against the Texas A&M Aggies during the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn, Mississippi State look to pick up pieces

The season looked promising for both Auburn and Mississippi State when Southeastern Conference play got underway in late September.

The Tigers were ranked No. 11 in the preseason and climbed to No. 7 after beating then-No. 23 Kentucky in their opener.

The Bulldogs began the season unranked but soared to No. 16 after beating defending national champion LSU 44-34 on the road in their season opener.

Auburn and Mississippi State can take their frustrations out on each other Saturday night when they square off in Starkville, Miss.

The Tigers (5-4, 5-4 SEC) have lost consecutive games to No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Texas A&M, with a goal of trying to salvage a winning record in their regular-season finale.

“Learning how to go through adversity is just part of the process,” Auburn quarterback Bo Nix said. “It’s not like we have a bad team by any means. All you can do is just move forward, make sure you finish the season how you’d like and not just let the whole season go to waste.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn tried to put the season in perspective after Tigers allowed 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 31-20 loss to Texas A&M in the home finale last Saturday.

He suggested a four-loss season in a 10-game SEC schedule wouldn’t look as bad as a four-loss season in a normal schedule featuring eight SEC games and four nonconference games.

Fans on social media were critical of what they perceived as a lowering of standards at Auburn.

Malzahn tried to clarify what he meant about a season in which three of the Tigers’ losses have come against teams that were ranked in the top five at the time of the defeats.

“I want to make sure it’s very clear: Our expectations are to win championships here at Auburn,” Malzahn said.

The Bulldogs are just 2-6 overall and in the SEC, and even that opening victory doesn’t seem as impressive as it once did because LSU has stumbled all season. With just two games remaining, Mississippi State can’t get to .500 in coach Mike Leach’s first season.

Mississippi State has been short-handed in its past two games because of COVID-19 issues and it took a pair of 31-24 defeats, to then-No. 13 Georgia and in-state rival Mississippi.

“We’ve got kind of a thin squad,” Leach said. “You march into (Georgia) with 43 scholarship guys, and here we go. But we got better as a team. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, and it was there. We could have won that. I think we should have won it. I was really proud of the effort of our guys, probably as proud as I’ve been of any team I’ve ever coached.”

Stanford transfer K.J. Costello passed for an SEC-record 623 yards against LSU, but he has since been replaced by freshman Will Rogers.

“I think (Rogers) got progressively better,” Leach said. “I think he’s got to keep improving. I do think he’s ahead of schedule. I think he’s better than I would have expected. I think he’s played quite courageous, quite well for a guy his age.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) looks down field to pass against Arkansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in College Station, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Sam Craft/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Texas A&M aims to stay in playoff hunt vs. Auburn

One could say that No. 5 Texas A&M’s normally high-powered offense was a lot like the weather in last week’s game against LSU — all wet.

Playing for the first time after a two-week layoff because of COVID-19 postponements, the Aggies struggled to produce points against a struggling defense. But their defense picked up the slack and enabled them to get by on something far from their best night, resulting in a 20-7 win.

Texas A&M hopes to look more like itself when it travels to Auburn on Saturday in search of an authoritative win that will keep it in the hunt for a spot in January’s College Football Playoff semifinals.

At 6-1, the Aggies need to win out and hope for someone in front of them to lose. The possibility also exists that current No. 4 Ohio State could eliminate itself by not being able to play one of the last two regular-season games, which would leave it below the minimum six-game threshold the Big Ten Conference set to play in its championship game.

If A&M can finish out a 10-game SEC schedule, the committee could look more kindly upon a longer body of work. But coach Jimbo Fisher hopes the updated resume as of Saturday afternoon includes a crisper effort by his offense.

“Way too inconsistent,” he said of the offense against LSU. “We didn’t block well up front, we didn’t protect the quarterback, he took a lot of hits. We still missed some throws we should have made, quite a few thtrrows.

“We didn’t get a rhythm going offensively, but our team found ways to win the game and that is what’s important. Our defense kept raising its game.”

The Aggies gave up just 267 yards against the Tigers and came within 43 seconds of pitching a shutout. The defense permitted LSU to convert just 2 of 16 on third down and even helped out with the scoring, as Buddy Johnson returned an interception 15 yards for a third-quarter touchdown.

As for Auburn (5-3), its hopes of a season-saving win at No. 1 Alabama ended fairly quickly last week in a 42-13 defeat. It was 21-3 by the middle of the second quarter, and the Tigers never found the end zone until a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Bo Nix with 4:39 left in the game.

However, Nix said the too-little, too-late score gave Auburn something to take out of the one-sided affair.

“It shows how we did keep fighting,” he said. “Even though the scoreboard wasn’t in our favor, we continued to try to move the ball and go down and score and we did that. I’m proud of the way our guys fought.”

A fair question for the Tigers might be what’s left to accomplish, given that high preseason expectations will result in no better than a 7-3 record to take to their bowl game.

“We’ve got two games left,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “This is an unusual season. We’ll need to rebound like we did earlier in the season.”

–Field Level Media