STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Auburn's appearance in a "white out" ended in white-knuckle fashion with a final throw toward the end zone falling incomplete and the Tigers losing 28-20 to Penn State.
1. Tank Bigsby's usage: Bigsby had eight carries for 41 yards in the first half, including an 18-yarder on Auburn's first play. But the productivity decreased with receiver screens and deep passes on early downs. The lack of touches by Bigsby was a point of concern coming out of halftime, only accentuated by the disastrous attempt to get cute after the break.
On Auburn's next drive, Bigsby doubled his carries, chugging for 38 yards on a 15-play touchdown drive that cut the deficit to 21-17. He was good for consistent short yardage, but when Auburn had a fourth-and-1 at the Penn State 26-yard line to start the fourth quarter, Bryan Harsin brought out the kicking team to make it 21-20 instead of handing it to his tank. The Nittany Lions answered with a touchdown.
2. Woeful pass defense: As Penn State began that fourth-quarter drive, linebacker Owen Pappoe was on the sideline without his helmet on. The team captain's mysterious absence added to Auburn's woes limiting Sean Clifford. Then Pappoe's fellow starting linebacker, senior Zakoby McClain, was hit with a targeting penalty.
That gave the Nittany Lions a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, but Auburn almost mustered a stop without the two key players. Noah Cain's 4-yard touchdown run on third down stung extra after the stops.
Still, senior Chandler Wooten stepped up and made a big tackle for a loss on a Penn State third-and-1 on the next series. That got Auburn the ball back for the game-deciding drive.
The pass defense was Auburn's defining failure all night. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford finished 28-for-32 with 280 yards and two touchdowns. Auburn rarely pressured him in pass rush. The Tigers were credited with one quarterback hurry all game.
3. Unforgettable play, forgotten: Without senior Shaun Shivers, Auburn's backup running back was freshman Jarquez Hunter, fresh off back-to-back 100-yard games to start his career. His 24-yard run down 28-20 in the fourth quarter seemed destined to add to his legend — and certainly it will — but it'll mostly be remembered as a footnote because of the goal-line series that followed.
Bo Nix completed a 6-yard pass to tight end John Samuel Shenker, and Auburn called its second timeout to call a play for fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Nix lined up with four receivers and Bigsby beside him in shotgun. But there was no handoff. No one was open, and Nix rushed the first progression, a goal-line fade, into the back of the end zone beyond anyone's reach.
Auburn got the ball back with enough time to reach the Penn State 26 with three seconds to go, but the final prayer fell harmlessly incomplete. Nix finished 21-for-37 with 185 yards.