James Franklin called the atmosphere for a White Out game at Beaver Stadium “special” many times in the week leading up to Saturday night’s Penn State-Auburn clash.
And the 109,958 in the stands would attest to that.
The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions, though, relied on their sturdy defense and quarterback Sean Clifford to turn back No. 22 Auburn, 28-20, and remain unbeaten.
In the only game between Big Ten and Southeastern Conference teams this regular season, Penn State (3-0) held the Tigers to a field goal on three possessions in the final 11 minutes.
Safety Jaquan Brisker broke up Bo Nix’s last-second pass inside the Penn State 10-yard line to seal the Lions’ first victory over an SEC team since beating LSU in the Citrus Bowl in the 2009 season.
Clifford completed 28-of-32 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, and Nazareth High School grad Jahan Dotson caught 10 passes for 78 yards and one score.
The Lions thought they had sealed the game after a pass interference penalty on the Tigers’ Nehemiah Pritchett trying to cover Jahan Dotson on second-and-12 from the Penn State 1.
Auburn, though, drove to the Lions’ 26 in the final minute before Brisker’s pass breakup.
One series earlier, Auburn (2-1) had driven to the Lions’ 2-yard line. But Nix’s pass in the end zone to Kobe Hudson fell incomplete when the receiver slipped with Brisker covering.
Auburn had scored 122 points in its first two games, but managed just two touchdowns against the Lions on its first road game against a Big Ten opponent since 1931.
Noah Cain’s 3-yard touchdown run with 10:48 to go gave Penn State a 28-20 lead. The offense turned the game over to the defense, which then came up with two stops inside the Lions’ territory.
The sellout crowd was treated to a terrific first half that included three lead changes.
Auburn scored on its first drive with the help of Bigsby’s 18-yard run and a pass interference penalty on Joey Porter Jr. Defensive end Jesse Luketa made two stops to force the Tigers to settle for Anders Carlson’s 45-yard field goal.
The Lions answered later in the first quarter after starting a drive at their own 12. Clifford found his tight ends on back-to-back throws, a 23-yarder to Brenton Strange and a 37-yarder to Theo Johnson.
Clifford capped a six-play, 88-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Dotson to give Penn State a 7-3 lead.
Auburn responded with a 75-yard drive of its own. The biggest play came when Nix completed a back-shoulder pass to Kobe Hudson for 36 yards on third-and-12 to the Penn State 13.
Three plays later, Bigsby plowed his way into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, which put the Tigers on top 10-7 with 12:28 left in the second quarter.
Penn State’s next possession came with controversy. Clifford, who was not under pressure, threw a long incompletion when a receiver apparently cut short his route on first down. The Southeastern Conference officiating crew flagged him for intentional grounding, resulting in a loss of down.
Clifford tossed a 5-yard pass to Dotson on the next snap on what should have been second-and-16. But the officials then said it was fourth down, which infuriated the Penn State sideline.
Their next series might have been the Lions’ finest of the season. Dotson made a spectacular 22-yard catch and then threw a 22-yard option pass to tight end Tyler Warren. Six plays gained no more than 10 yards before Clifford faked a handoff and lobbed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Strange, giving the Lions 14-10 lead at the half.
Penn State outgained Auburn 264-158 in the half, and Clifford completed 16-of-20 passes for 168 yards and two scores. He committed the Lions’ first turnover of the season when he threw an interception as he was hit by linebacker Zakoby McClain, who was ejected in the second half for targeting.
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