The Auburn Tigers have developed a very bewildering and annoying tendency over the last decade of having at least one humiliating performance a year against an out of conference opponent. In 2015, it was Jacksonville State (no offense). In 2017, it was Mercer. In 2018, it was Southern Miss. Last year, it was Georgia State. Saturday, the Tigers struggled to beat San Jose State 24-16. Were they looking ahead to Penn State? Probably. Should it have mattered? No. Auburn repeatedly sabotaged themselves with penalties and turnovers in the first half and gave hope to an overmatched opponent. It was a disappointing and dismal performance that I have, unfortunately, come to expect. However, winning a football game on a Saturday when lots of other high-profile teams lose games to seemingly inferior teams is all that matters.
To say that Auburn's overall play in the first two games has been uneven would be somewhat of an understatement. There have been some positives like Tank Bigsby, Jarquez Hunter and the running game. There have been some negatives like four interceptions and suspect coverage in the secondary. Quite frankly, it's natural to expect lots of ups and downs in the first few weeks of the season. Especially when there are new players in pivotal positions like quarterback, center and safety. That being said, the Tigers should ideally be in the process of developing an identity by this point. Are they a running team? Are they a passing team? Are they stronger offensively or defensively? I honestly don't know.
TJ Finley trots in and runs a few plays. Then, Robby Ashford trots in and runs a play or two. Ashford runs the ball eighty percent of the time and is very effective, but only played nine snaps against San Jose State. Finley looks great throwing the ball in stretches but can't run and throws the ball to the other team far too often. I do believe Auburn has established itself as a good run defense. I like the defensive line and the depth. The secondary hasn't been nearly as impressive, and the defense as a whole isn't creating turnovers. The Tigers better figure out who they are quick, because the competition gets tougher from here on out.
Penn State will be in Jordan Hare Stadium on Saturday and present, by far, the biggest challenge of the season. The Nittany Lions got the best of the Tigers last year in Happy Valley and are favored by Vegas to do so again. I think fans tend to put too much emphasis on a single game and I'm just as guilty as anyone. I've pointed to this game for months as "the" pivotal game on the schedule.
It's certainly the biggest game in the Bryan Harsin era. A win gives Auburn a great opportunity to start the season 5-0 and prove the doubters wrong. A loss could very easily send the Tigers into a tailspin and ramp up speculation about Harsin's future. I'm sure the game will be overhyped but make no mistake it absolutely has enormous implications win or lose. Of course, if Auburn continues to play like they did against San Jose State, they won't beat anyone.