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Penn State beats another ranked opponent

Lions and Tigers and a Whiteout ... oh my!

The annual Nittany Lions’ Whiteout at Beaver Stadium was as always an energetic and picturesque environment last Saturday night and it ended with a 28-20 victory for Penn State over Auburn.

With the “W,” the Nittany Lions (3-0) moved up to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and now have two wins over ranked teams in the first three games - the first time they have accomplished that in school history.

Simply put, Penn State did the things it needed to do to come away with the victory on a huge stage against a good football team.

Takeaway No. 1 and perhaps the most inspiring thing Nittany Lions’ faithful can be excited for after last week’s win was the play of quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford played an excellent game, took care of the football, moved well in the pocket and made plays down the field when he needed to against a very formidable Auburn defense.

Clifford finished 28-of-32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception, which pretty much served as a punt at the end of the first half. If Clifford continues to play at the level he played at against the Tigers, Penn State is going to be a tough out this season.

The other big takeaway from last week’s game is the continued resiliency and bend, but don’t break mentality of the defense. The Nittany Lions’ defense isn’t the kind of defense that is going to stifle opposing offenses, but they will make plays when they need to, especially in the red zone. They will also create turnovers with their playmakers in the secondary. It’s a unit that is really playing well right now and they have seemed to figure out the right recipe to help the team win football games.

Coming off a big win, there is always a chance for a letdown and coming into Happy Valley this week is FCS opponent Villanova (Noon ET, BTN). Do not sleep on the Wildcats as they’re ranked No. 11 in FCS and are certainly not coming to State College looking to get their doors blown off. Villanova is coming off a big win over FCS No. 21 ranked Richmond a week ago and will certainly look to build off that momentum.

Stopping the run will be priority number one for the Penn State defense as the Wildcats have had success running the football, rushing for just over 212 yards per game on the ground. Justin Covington leads Villanova in rushing with 307 yards and two scores. Quarterback Daniel Smith has also been efficient, throwing for 598 yards, with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. The Wildcats have also done a good job as Penn State has of creating turnovers and protecting the football – with a plus-eight turnover differential.

Defensively, Villanova has been ridiculously good against the run, allowing just 29.3 rushing yards per game.

If there is something Penn State needs to work on it is the rushing attack. An average of 128 rushing yards per game with the talent the Nittany Lions have at running back and up front on the offensive line just isn’t good enough. Once the dog days come in the middle of the Big 10 season, the ground game will prove pivotal. A breakout performance from Noah Cain, Keyvone Lee or John Lovett would be a nice confidence boost with Indiana coming to town next week.

Keep an eye on Baylor grad transfer Lovett this week, who finally saw some time against Auburn last week. Lovett has some twitchiness and home run hitter ability to his game and if he can get the ball in space, he can make things happen.

Penn State is obviously a big favorite and deservingly so after wins over Wisconsin and Auburn this season. Villanova, however, like I said shouldn’t be overlooked. They do have some good athletes and are coming into this game with nothing to lose.

But I like the way this Nittany Lions team is playing with two gutty wins already on the docket. This squad plays complimentary football, takes care of the ball and generates turnovers. I think pressure will be the key this week. I think Penn State will be able to get pressure on the Villanova offense and I think the offensive line will keep pressure off of Clifford, who is coming off his most impressive performance in his career.

Look for the rushing attack to get going this week and also for Clifford to make some explosive plays in the pass game. Another player to keep an eye on this week is KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who has looked good as the third option at wide receiver. I like his big play ability as well and I think you’ll see a few from him this afternoon.

My pick is Penn State 41, Villanova 10.