Penn State an opportunity for Harsin, Auburn to write a new chapter

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AUBURN, Alabama – Bryan Harsin won three conference championships in Boise State, so context, not rankings, is what matters when looking at the impact of individual games.

Still, it is probably no exaggeration to venture that if Auburn can march to Happy Valley and the Nittany Lions on Saturday night, it would be the biggest win of Harsin’s head coaching career.

In his eight seasons as head coach – one in Arkansas State in 2013 and the next seven in Boise – Harsin was never very close to preparing for a street game against a team of this caliber. The top-ranked team his Broncos have ever faced away from home was San Diego State number 19 in 2017; Boise State won that game 31-14.

No. 22 Auburn wins Penn State’s No. 10 in the Nittany Lions annual whiteout game on Saturday night in front of a crowd of more than 106,000.

The biggest road win of Harsin’s head coaching career likely came in 2019, when Boise State returned from double-digit losses in the second half, beating Florida State in Tallahassee in the season opener. This FSU team didn’t have a ranking, as did Harsin’s Broncos.

Of course, Harsin played a role as assistant coach in bigger wins. His first season as Boise State offensive coordinator was in 2006 when he helped secure one of the most entertaining bowl victories of all time at the Fiesta Bowl against No. 7 Oklahoma Score. Boise State opened the 2008 season with an 18th place win in Oregon and then beat 3rd place on the TCU in the Fiesta Bowl the following year. The highest-ranking real road win Harsin ever competed in as a coach was Boise State’s win at Virginia Tech’s 13th place in 2010.

That’s the way to transition from a high-level power five job to the SEC. Harsin met a total of eleven rated teams in seven seasons in Boise. He’s likely to top that number at Auburn by the middle of next season.

Given what the SEC West has to offer in terms of playoff competition, Auburn is no stranger to these types of games. And no one would blame a program for having a less than excellent record at big games on the street, especially on the SEC. Still, their last win against a top 10 team in a real street game was in 2014 when the Tigers were No. 7 Ole Miss 35-31 outlasted.

Since then, Auburn has lost nine such matchups in a row. Here are these games.

2014: No. 15 Auburn at No. 2 Alabama

Score: 55-44 Alabama

2016: No. 13 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama

Score: 30-12 Alabama

2017: No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson

Score: 14-6 Clemson

2018: Auburn at No. 5 Georgia

Result: 27-10 Georgia

2018: Auburn at No. 1 Alabama

Score: 52-21 Alabama

2019: No. 7 Auburn at No. 10 Florida

Score: 24-13 Florida

2019: No. 9 Auburn at No. 2 LSU

Score: 23-20 LSU

2020: No. 7 Auburn at No. 4 Georgia

Result: 27-6 Georgia

2020: # 22 Auburn at # 1 Alabama

Score: 42-13 Alabama

Do you see a trend Since 2016, Gus MalzahnThe offenses averaged 12.6 points per game in these games and never exceeded 21 points. In six of the nine games, Auburn scored a touchdown or less.

Malzahn won two of his four against the top 10 opponents on the road before igniting the losing streak.

Offensive incompetence must be avoided in Penn State. It buried Auburn in major streets far too early in recent years. Harsin knows, of course, that the execution will not only be decisive on the offensive in Happy Valley. But before kick-off, he wants to find out if his team has the DNA to get such a big win – keep their heads down during the week and continue to follow their “1-0” mentality every day, not already up Fast forward Saturday night.

It’s Harsin’s first chance to see his Tigers prepare for a marquee match after two easy wins at the start of the season. And he wants that to hide anything that wasn’t meant to help Auburn win.

“I think leadership is a big part – huge,” said Harsin on Monday when asked what he thinks are the qualities of a team that can win big games on the road. “I think that has to be one of them, if not the main factor.”

There is little to no room for error this week for Auburn in prep, Harsin said. The scout team cannot afford negligent repetitions. There can be no badly executed parts of the exercise. But Harsin isn’t worried about his team’s focus; This is the game they have long circled.

However, he is intrigued to see how they deal with real adversity on the field for the first time. He said he saw her in his nine months as Auburn’s head coach in other areas.

“Just being resilient and being able to react are big keys in my opinion,” said Harsin. “For me, these are things that I think have good teams. … I don’t know if all of these things have happened to us by then. You may not have it on the field, but in our program at other times. “

One of the most anticipated non-conference matches of 2021 begins with ESPN College GameDay at 8 a.m. CST on the PSU campus. The game starts in earnest at 6:30 p.m. CST on ABC.

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