Penn State won the red zone and turnover battles to outslug Auburn for the second year in a row Saturday, this time on the road.

What started as a back-and-forth battle turned into a rout after halftime, as the Nittany Lions rolled to a 41-12 victory.

Sean Clifford provided hard-nosed leadership and enough clutch throws to guide the No. 22 Nittany Lions (3-0) past the Tigers (2-1) in another heavy-hitting early-season battle between programs trying to return to prominence in the tougher divisions of the best 2 conferences in college football.

The game had echoes to last September, when Penn State won 28-20 on a White Out Saturday night in State College. This time, Auburn fans did their best to Orange Out Jordan-Hare Stadium and hit the Lions with a wall of noise.

The victory didn’t come as easily as the score indicates, but Penn State’s aggressive defense under new coordinator Manny Diaz made the difference.

The risk-reward nature of the approach left Lions fans fretting at times early on, but it sped up Auburn starting quarterback TJ Finley enough to force 4 turnovers and 5 sacks through 3 quarters of play.

In the first half, Diaz’s deep unit forced an interception and limited Finley’s offense to 2 field goals in as many red zone trips.

Meanwhile, Clifford bounced back from a huge hit early in the game to go 9-of-13 for 117 yards in the first half, and the Lions finished with touchdowns both times they reached the red zone before halftime. Clifford finished 14-of-19 for 178 yards with no mistakes — unless you count not seeing a wide-open Parker Washington for a TD on a drive that resulted in a touchdown anyway.

Clifford, maligned at times over his struggles with accuracy, hit Mitchell Tinsley twice for 48 yards, both spot-on throws into tight coverage, to lead Penn State 75 yards on 9 plays for a go-ahead score in the first quarter. Clifford finished the drive himself with a 7-yard draw, showing no ill effects from nearly getting his head knocked off on the team’s first possession.

On Penn State’s second TD drive, Clifford went 4-for-4 for 49 yards, then handed to Kaytron Allen for a 3-yard score.

Meanwhile, Diaz’s defense sent pressure at Finley and backup QB Robby Ashford more often than not, forcing quick throws. A sack by LB Curtis Jacobs forced Auburn to settle for its 1st field goal. A hurried dump-off pass for 2 yards on 3-and-goal from the 7 forced the 2nd Anders Carlson FG.

The first half ended with Penn State up 14-6, but with Auburn probably still thinking it could pound away in the trenches and forge a comeback. But despite a few solid runs, star running back Tank Bigsby couldn’t dominate. He finished with 39 yards on 9 carries.

A sack ended Auburn’s first drive of the second half, and the Tigers’ 3rd turnover of the game killed the next one. In that time span, Penn State 5-star freshman back Nicholas Singleton broke free for a 53-yard run that set up his own 1-yard touchdown. And the turnover led to a field goal, putting the Tigers down 24-6. (Singleton would add a 54-yard TD run to salt the game away at 38-12. That put him well over 100 yards for the 2nd straight week.)

By the time Penn State true freshman linebacker Abdul Carter sacked Ashford for an 11-yard loss, Auburn was in deep trouble. One play later, Ji’Ayir Brown — the nation’s leader in interceptions last year — made his first pick of the season. Auburn’s red zone trip didn’t gain even a field goal on that possession.

At that point, Penn State’s defense had 5 sacks and 4 turnovers forced. The Lions, who for a 3rd-straight week went deep into their bench, didn’t wilt in the Alabama sun. Far from it. By the end, embattled Auburn coach Bryan Harsin’s squad was the one that look gassed.

Diaz’s aggressive approach had paid off, even though it did allow Auburn to convert a couple of 3-and-very-longs in the first half.

After being held to a modest 65 rushing yards in the first half, Penn State ground out 88 in the third quarter. Allen’s second TD run put Penn State up 31-6.

After Singleton’s long TD jaunt, the Lions had more than 200 yards and were averaging 7.2 per carry. It’s amazing what a couple long runs will do for the perception of an offensive line. The guys up front made progress, not allowing a sack as of the midpoint of the fourth quarter after allowing 6 over the season’s first 2 weeks.

With the game in hand, 5-star quarterback Drew Allar entered the game early in the fourth quarter, playing for the 3rd time in as many games. He went 2-for-2 for 29 yards, leading the offense to a field goal. Christian Veilleux finished up.

Barney Amor only had to punt 3 times, and averaged 47 yards.

Un next: Central Michigan

It’s back home for more high-noon MACtion next weekend, as the Lions host the Chippewas (1-2). Penn State will be heavily favored, as they were last weekend before thumping Ohio 46-10.