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Film Study: Penn State football takes advantage of Auburn's failed approach

The Penn State Nittany Lions are now 3-0 to start the season and have beaten two ranked teams in prime television spots in front of massive audiences. The latest victory was 28-20 over Auburn in an electric White Out atmosphere in Beaver Stadium.

The start of the season could not be going much better for Penn State head coach James Franklin and his staff. The latest win is a massive boost for the current team, recruiting, and emotional goodwill with the fanbase.

Much of the 2021 football season has yet to be written, but so far through three weeks of the campaign, the Penn State football team has found ways to score points and while it may be ugly at times, get stops on defense.

How did it happen this time around?

We’ll get into some doozies of decisions by the Auburn coaching staff in this week’s film review.

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Not a Great Plan 

Through two games this season there have been two distinct game plans Wisconsin and Ball State used to defend the Nittany Lions. The Badgers played the line of scrimmage aggressively in both the run and the passing game, forcing Penn State to try and win downfield in single coverage.

On the flip side, Ball State played a soft zone coverage and allowed Penn State to methodically move the ball downfield, hoping to bleed the game into a close affair through stops on third down.

Yet one thing in both scenarios held true. The Badgers and Cardinals both used pass-rushing stunts to confuse the Penn State offensive line and get free rushes at the quarterback. The relatively young Penn State offensive line has struggled with communication and athleticism on the edges of their blocks to pick up players either screaming from, or to the edge. So what did Auburn do?

Zero stunts.

This is not an exaggeration.

Auburn took the biggest red flag on film for the Penn State offense and defensive coordinator Derek Mason completely ignored it. Not only that, but Auburn rarely sent more than four rushers at quarterback Sean Clifford, who notably struggles under pressure. I can only imagine that this is the football version of hubris and Mason thought his active, powerful defensive line could get home without any tricks.

They could not.

This was a massive win for Penn State and their offensive line. The Auburn defensive line had been playing very well against some lesser competition and seemed to have an advantage in this game against a Penn State unit that had struggled to keep Clifford clean against a MAC opponent.

With a clean pocket and time to throw, Clifford played the best game of his career as a Nittany Lion. He was efficient, accurate, and poised. It’s the game that most people who cover or follow Penn State football thought he could be capable of if given the right circumstances.

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