STATE COLLEGE — Penn State’s 28-20 win against then-No. 22 Auburn on Saturday marked the first time since 1990 that the Nittany Lions earned a regular-season victory against an SEC opponent (Alabama).
The Nittany Lions were rewarded with a No. 6 ranking in the last AP Top 25 poll, a 13-spot surge after beginning the season ranked No. 19.
Penn State (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) this week hosts Villanova (noon, Big Ten Network) before embarking on its Big Ten portion of the schedule.
Here are five numbers from this week’s win:
130That is the yards receiving by Penn State tight ends
First-year Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich deployed three-tight end sets numerous times against the Tigers, throwing another wrinkle from his seemingly deep playbook.
Penn State tight ends Brenton Strange (71 yards, one touchdown), Theo Johnson (37 yards) and Tyler Warren (22 yards) combined for 130 of Penn State’s 302 yards receiving.
Strange had a long of 40 yards, while Johnson tallied a long of 37 yards.
Warren in the third quarter also scored on a 2-yard touchdown run after he lined up at quarterback from the Wildcat formation and went airborne for the touchdown.
“I don’t want that to be a one-week on, one-week off,” Penn State coach James Franklin said of the production from the position group after the win.” I think we have a really talented tight end group. We want to keep them involved. It’s really difficult when you have receivers making plays, you have tight ends making plays, (and) you’re able to run the ball. We’ve got that type of balance.”
100%: Red-zone percentage
The Nittany Lions were 4 for 4 in red-zone attempts against Auburn, pushing their season’s total to 10 for 11 (90.9%).
Penn State recorded four touchdowns during their trips inside of the Tigers’ 20-yard line. Quarterback Sean Clifford threw touchdown passes of 4 and 2 yards to wide receiver Jahan Dotson and Strange, respectively. Warren added his 2-yard touchdown run, and running back Noah Cain scored from 3 yards out.
“Tempo, that’s been the biggest thing,” Dotson said postgame of the offense under Yurcich. “The way we use tempo is it throws teams off balance. It’s a great weapon for us. I said at the beginning of the season that he has an answer for every single thing that the defense throws at us. It’s just great to have a guy like that.”
10.4: average yards per completion
Clifford was 28-of-32 passing for 280 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Dotson added a completion on one passing attempt, as he connected with Warren for a 22-yard gain in the second quarter.
Clifford’s 28 completions were a career-best.
Penn State passers’ 29 connections went for 10.4 yards per completion.
Clifford was 12 for 12 in the second half, with six of his completions resulting in first downs.
“It was probably the calmest in a game I’ve ever been,” Clifford said after the win. “From the first snap, I was seeing everything so clear, and I think that also is from how Coach Yurcich has developed me and really pushed me every single day and not let me slip through the cracks on anything.”
10: Tackles by LB Brandon Smith
Nittany Lions’ linebacker Brandon Smith’s 10-tackle outing marked a career-best for the junior.
The 10 stops –including six of the solo variety – upped Smith’s tackle total to 25 this season, and Saturday marked the third time this year the defender accumulated six or more tackles.
“I think we have a really good mentality on defense,” Franklin said. “I think our leadership is really good. I think we’re a mentally tough football team. I think we’re a physically tough football team.”
On Monday, Smith was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week. The honor was a first for Smith and a first for the Nittany Lions since former defensive tackle Robert Windsor earned the accolade during the 2018 season.
Smith’s 25 total tackles pace all Nittany Lion defenders this season, and it ranks No. 10 among all defenders in the Big Ten.
7: Consecutive wins
Penn State’s latest win upped its streak to seven games, which ranks fifth in the nation tied with Georgia.
Only Alabama (17), Oklahoma (11), Texas A&M (11) and Iowa (nine) carry longer winning streaks.
After opening the 2020 season on a five-game losing streak, Penn State won its last four of the year before embarking on its current three-game win streak in 2021. Two of Penn State’s three wins this season came against ranked opponents in Wisconsin and Auburn.
“It started with our offseason,” Penn State running back Noah Cain said of his team’s strong start to the season. “It started with our camp. We had one of the hardest camps this offseason. Coach Franklin challenged us day in and day out just to be great and be the best version of ourselves, and I think that’s what everybody is doing in this program.”