Sean Clifford, No. 10 Penn State Beat No. 22 Auburn in Front of White Out Home Crowd

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IISeptember 19, 2021

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: Jahan Dotson #5 of the Penn State Nittany Lions catches a pass for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Beaver Stadium on September 18, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

No. 10 Penn State defeated No. 22 Auburn 28-20 in a thrilling and dramatic game that went down to the final play from Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania on Saturday.

The two teams put on a show in front of the sellout White Out crowd, which had Beaver Stadium rocking all evening.

Penn State scored a touchdown in each quarter thanks to wideout Jahan Dotson, tight end Brenton Strange, tight end Tyler Warren and running back Noah Cain. Following the extra point after the Cain score, PSU led 28-20 with 10:48 left.

Auburn still had a shot and later drove 73 yards in 11 plays over 3:54 late in the fourth quarter, but a 4th-and-goal pass from the PSU 2-yard line fell incomplete with 3:08 remaining.

PSU was forced to punt, though, giving Auburn one last chance.

The Tigers drove down to the Penn State 26-yard line with just second remaining but simply ran out of time. Quarterback Bo Nix's last-ditch pass to Demetris Robertson was broken up, and the game was over.

Twenty-two players were on the field at all times on Saturday, but this game felt like a heavyweight boxing match between two offensive superstars on occasion.

On the Penn State side, Dotson caught 10 passes for 78 receiving yards and one touchdown. He also threw a 22-yard completion during a 91-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.

On the Auburn side, running back Tank Bigsby rolled over the Nittany Lions with 23 carries for 102 rushing yards and two scores. Auburn knocked home field goals in the first and fourth quarters to buffer Bigsby's touchdowns in the second and third.

Penn State moved to 3-0 with the win. Auburn fell to 2-1.


Notable Performances

Penn State QB Sean Clifford: 28-of-32, 280 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception

Penn State WR Jahan Dotson: 10 catches, 78 receiving yards, 1 touchdown

Penn State TE Brenton Strange: 4 catches, 71 receiving yards, 1 touchdown

Auburn QB Bo Nix: 21-of-37, 185 passing yards

Auburn RB Tank Bigsby: 23 carries, 102 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns

Auburn WR Kobe Hudson: 4 catches, 66 receiving yards


Jahan Dotson: Bona fide Superstar

Dotson's emergence was one of the bright spots in Penn State's lost 2020 season, which saw the Nittany Lions lose their first five games.

Dotson dominated to the tune of 52 catches for 884 yards and eight touchdowns in just nine games.

He had proven his prowess as a big-play threat in 2019 (27 catches, 488 yards, five scores), but Dotson showed he could be relied upon as the team's top wide receiver on a weekly basis.

Now it appears Dotson has taken a leap into superstardom based on how the first three weeks have gone, capped by his nationally-televised opponent against a ranked SEC opponent.

Dotson opened the season with 10 catches for 167 yards and two scores, including 5-102-1 in a defensive slugfest at Wisconsin.

On Saturday, Dotson continued his torrid pace when his team needed him most.

The wideout scored Penn State's first touchdown after Clifford danced around rushing defenders to find Dotson all alone in the back of the end zone:

Big Ten Network @BigTenNetwork

When in doubt, find Jahan Dotson. 💥 <a href="https://twitter.com/H55ZY?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@H55ZY</a> gives <a href="https://twitter.com/PennStateFball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PennStateFball</a> its first lead. <a href="https://t.co/QKzQCjeHlA">pic.twitter.com/QKzQCjeHlA</a>

ESPN @espn

This view of Penn State's touchdown 👀 📈 <a href="https://t.co/3LpkXviHNb">pic.twitter.com/3LpkXviHNb</a>

That wasn't even Dotson's best play, as he even fooled ESPN play-by-play commentator Chris Fowler (and likely many others) by turning what appeared to be an incompletion due to a high pass into a spectacular leaping reception:

Big Ten Network @BigTenNetwork

Jahan Dotson is just ridiculous. 😱<a href="https://twitter.com/H55ZY?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@H55ZY</a> // <a href="https://twitter.com/PennStateFball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PennStateFball</a> <a href="https://t.co/EOWALyXnJH">pic.twitter.com/EOWALyXnJH</a>

That drive, which ended with a touchdown, also featured Dotson's aforementioned 22-yard pass.

Penn State is used to offensive playmakers dominating games, and one of them was present Saturday in New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley:

Penn State Football @PennStateFball

LET'S GOOOOOOO <a href="https://t.co/X6Awsotu0E">pic.twitter.com/X6Awsotu0E</a>

It appears Dotson may be following Barkley's footsteps after his fantastic outing.

Kyle J. Andrews of the Centre Daily Times summed up Dotson's place in the college football landscape well:

Kyle J. Andrews @KyleJAndrews_

Jahan Dotson is one of the most electrifying players in college football. It shouldn't even be a question at this point.

That playmaking ability makes it important for Dotson to get the ball frequently. As Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic noted, that appeared to be a big part of Saturday's gameplan:

Nicole Auerbach @NicoleAuerbach

James Franklin clearly wanted Jahan Dotson to touch the ball as much as he could today.

Dotson could be making those plays on Sundays next year, especially after he undoubtedly improved his draft stock against Auburn. Luke Easterling of The Draft Wire provided a very complimentary comparison:

Luke Easterling @LukeEasterling

I see a good bit of Stefon Diggs in Jahan Dotson

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs is coming off a 127-catch, 1,535-yard season. We'll soon find out if Dotson find himself becoming a pass-catching machine in the pros, but for now, he and the Nittany Lions appear primed for a special season.


Tremendous Effort from Tank Bigsby, Tigers Falls Just Short

Saturday evening ended in a disappointing loss for Auburn, but the Tigers can head back home knowing they put forth a tremendous effort.

In front of a raucous sellout crowd of well over 100,000, the Tigers nearly took down a potential College Football Playoff participant in Penn State.

Bigsby was the catalyst for that effort, carving out chunks of yards to guide the Tiger offense.

On Saturday, he showed why he has an appropriate name, bowling over players to give the Tigers a 9-7 lead in the second quarter:

Auburn Football @AuburnFootball

FEED THAT MAN 🗣<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WarEagle?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WarEagle</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/tank_bigsby?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tank_bigsby</a> <a href="https://t.co/eNnTgnuQ4J">pic.twitter.com/eNnTgnuQ4J</a>

Bigsby had 21 yards on the 75-yard drive.

Penn State responded with 14 more points, but the Tigers went back to Bigsby to lead their next drive. The running back produced 38 more yards and muscled it into the end zone from six yards out to pull the Tigers within one score:

Auburn Football @AuburnFootball

Ask and you shall receive, Tank punches it in for 6!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WarEagle?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WarEagle</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AuburnMade?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AuburnMade</a> <a href="https://t.co/QiIX0XO9kn">pic.twitter.com/QiIX0XO9kn</a>

He has 343 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 47 carries.

Curiously, Auburn decided against giving the ball to Bigsby at a big moment, when the Tigers faced a 4th-and-2 with 3:08 left.

The result was a low-percentage fade attempt from Nix to Hudson that wasn't close to connecting. Brandon Marcello of 247Sports provided his thoughts:

Brandon Marcello @bmarcello

Oh, no, Bo.<br><br>Oh, no, Bobo.<br><br>A fade?<br><br>With Tank Bigsby in your backfield?<br><br>Certainly a decision one could make.

Hudson had success with four catches for 66 yards, but the fade is a low-percentage play as is. It was a tough ending for Auburn, but the Tigers can still hold their heads high knowing they went toe-to-toe with the Nittany Lions in one of the toughest environments in college football.

Ultimately, the Tigers might be in position to have their best finish since ending the 2013 season in the national championship.