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Tuesday talking points: A 'fast and physical' Auburn defense and more

Justin Hokansonby:Justin Hokanson09/14/21

_JHokanson

AUBURN | When Auburn’s defense and Penn State’s offense meet on Saturday night, it will be a battle of first-year coordinators at their respective schools.

Derek Mason has his unit firing on all cylinders through the first two weeks, leading the nation in scoring defense, allowing five points per game. On the other side, Mike Yurich starts his first year as Penn State’s offensive coordinator after spending last season at Texas.

Yurich has a nice track record, with time spent at Oklahoma State and Ohio State, before arriving at Penn State. His offenses has averaged 6.48 yards per play over his 15 years as coordinator. That’s the best among active coordinators since 2013. The hallmark of a Yurich offense is the big play. Yurich’s offenses have averaged 14 yards per completion, also first among coordinators since 2013.

“We have to keep a cap on that and limit the big plays,” Auburn linebacker Owen Pappoe said. “We know they’re going to go for the big plays, we just have to eliminate that.”

The Nittany Lions’ offense is led by senior quarterback Sean Clifford and senior wideout Jahan Dotson. Clifford is averaging over 240 yards passing per game, and is one of seven Penn State players to amass over 6,000 yards of total offense. Dotson is on the Biletnikoff Award and Maxwell Award watchlists to start the season, as well as the Paul Hornung Award watchlist as the nation’s most versatile player. Dotson has a touchdown reception in three straight games, and has scored touchdowns in four straight games.

“He is dynamic,” Auburn linebacker Chandler Wooten said of Clifford. “He can run, he can make all the throws, and obviously has a lot of command.”

[Tigers offensive line faces tall test on the road in Happy Valley]

The Auburn defense, on the other hand, is preparing for their biggest challenge to date. Akron and Alabama State didn’t pose much of a threat, and to the Tigers’ credit, they dominated. Auburn hasn’t allowed 200 total yards in either of the first two games, and has only allowed 43 rushing yards combined. The Tigers’ secondary will be challenged for the first time all season, and limiting big plays will be paramount.

The first-team defense hasn’t surrendered a point this season, and Pappoe believes his unit is capable of continuing the solid play into Saturday night.

“That’s that’s our plan for this weekend man,” Pappoe said. “Our preparation of going into this game is going be the same as it’s been in these past two previous weeks. We’re just gonna go out there, we’re gonna do what we do, we’re not gonna do anything special or change anything. We’re going to play fast physical, and you’re going to see the results.”

Chandler Wooten (Photo by Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)

Chandler Wooten enjoying his new linebacker position

The STAR position in Mason’s defense is fairly unique. It’s not an every-down position, but it can still play an important role in both pass rushing and defending the pass. On Saturday, Wooten was even seen dropping all the way back into a deep third, in what some call a Tampa-2 type defense.

“Yeah, I love it,” Wooten said. “You know, like you said, I can do multiple things. You know just able to switch it up. It just presents a different look for whether I’m coming in or dropping back. It’s a different dynamic that you said in the past, and I’m excited about it. You know, just decided to continue to grow in that role.”

Will Auburn be phased by the White Out crowd of 100,000-plus fans?

Penn State is 6-6 all-time in full-stadium White Out games. And since 2016, Penn State is 29-5 inside Beaver Stadium. Needless to say, this will be as tough an environment that Auburn will play in this season, and certainly rivals some of the toughest venues in the SEC.

“We understand what it is, obviously playing in the SEC,” Wooten said. “We’ve been in a lot of cool stadiums, a lot a lot of places, but at the end of the day, it just comes down to doing your job. It’s going to be loud, but you have to line up and beat the man in front of you. The crowd shouldn’t impact that. The crowd helps provide energy, but at the end of the day, we’re going to play football. We have to prepare well this week and play our best football.”

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – OCTOBER 19: General view before the white out game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines on October 19, 2019 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. Penn State defeats Michigan 28-21. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Jarquez Hunter stories already becoming memorable

The freshman running back has exploded onto the scene this season, leading Auburn in rushing after two games with 257 yards and two touchdowns. When you ask Hunter’s teammates, stories of his work ethic and strength are already well known.

Pappoe, Wooten and Tank Bigsby all confirmed the story of Hunter squatting over 600 pounds this offseason, “saying he did it like it was 225 pounds.”

And on Tuesday, center Nick Brahms added another great Hunter story. Brahms said during the summer, the team was running stadiums. The assignment that particular day was to run 17 stadiums. As Brahms and some other teammates were finishing up, they noticed Hunter was still running. They wondered if he was dragging behind? After they spoke with Harsin, they understood why.

Hunter finished his 17 stadiums early, so he ran another seven stadiums, finishing with 24. Hunter’s teammates and coaches took notice that day.

“His future is bright,” they all said.

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