Trace McSorley stared dead straight into the animated Beaver Stadium student section, banging his right fist on his chest three times. The quarterback then turned to his left and became a hurdle for tight end Mike Gesicki.
“I was trying to chest bump him,” Gesicki said after Penn State’s 42-13 drubbing of Michigan, “but he didn’t look at me so I ended up just going right on top of him.”
Gesicki couldn’t stop his momentum in a vault that went viral. Twitter blew up after the former high school basketball star leapfrogged his QB.
Gesicki earns a 9 out of 10 on the jump, sticking the landing — but the actual play he was celebrating was a 10. McSorley’s three-yard touchdown at the end of the first half run proved to critical, as it bumped Penn State’s lead up to 21-13.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Centre Daily Times
In 52 seconds, McSorley and the Nittany Lions drove 75 yards for a score. A 36-yard connection to DaeSean Hamilton and an unreal tip-toe catch by Gesicki (more on that later) set up McSorley’s short burst into the end zone — his first of three rushing touchdowns.
“I think that was huge for us to get that touchdown right before halftime,” the quarterback said. “At that point, they had scored 13 unanswered and were kind of coming back. They were able to gain a little bit of momentum. We were able to get the momentum right back.”
That’s the nature of this offense under Joe Moorhead. Count them out after a few poor drives and, boom, McSorley pops Michigan’s vaunted defense in the mouth.
▪ Gesicki’s hurdle was mentioned already. If you somehow missed it, check it out.
While you’re at it, peep his pair of catches. They’re brilliant.
The first was on a vastly underthrown ball by McSorley. No beating around that bush. The quarterback scrambled and faced pressure by Michigan defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. He chucked it deep, and Gesicki channeled that high school volleyball vertical. The 6-foot-6 cheat code outjumped Wolverine defensive backs Josh Metellus and Brandon Watson.
“Look how high he goes up,” Kirk Herbstreit said on the ABC broadcast in awe.
And then Gesicki’s second catch directly preceded McSorley’s half-ending touchdown trot. On third-and-3 from Penn State’s 20-yard line, the tight end went inside-out on a route to the sideline. He boxed out defensive back Khaleke Hudson and just managed to get his right foot down for a 17-yard snare.
That was all from Gesicki. He didn’t have a catch in the second half.
But those two were gems.
▪ The Nittany Lion defense tallied seven sacks, and eight different players — Jason Cabinda, Christian Campbell, Manny Bowen, Ryan Buchholz, Curtis Cothran, Parker Cothren, Kevin Givens and Shaka Toney — got in on the action.
Penn State’s seven sacks was tied for the most in a game since the Nittany Lions had eight in a 35-14 win over Wisconsin on Nov. 5, 2005.
▪ This isn’t the first time Blake Gillikin has been under the “good” tab, and don’t expect to be the last time, either.
This kid is the best punter in the Big Ten. Maybe not by pure average standards; Minnesota’s Ryan Santoso hits it 45.0 yards per punt, while Gillikin’s mark is 44.5.
But, man, when the Nittany Lions have needed Gillikin this year he’s delivered.
Immediately following Michigan’s first touchdown, which cut the deficit to 14-6, Barkley was corralled for a short kickoff return, and the Wolverines forced a three-and-out. Gillikin was punting with his heels inches away from the back of his own end zone — and he wasn’t fazed. The sophomore drove his punt 56 yards with sensational hang-time, preventing a return and pinning Michigan back at its own 36.
A few years ago, who knows what might’ve happened there? A shanked punt, and Michigan could be looking at points.
Gillikin has been a clear All-Big Ten selection through seven games.
▪ Penn State had 302 offensive yards in the first half against a defense that entered Saturday surrendering 223.8 per game, tops in the country.
That’s pretty good, right?
▪ Admittedly, all observations in this section are nitpicks. The No. 2 Nittany Lions played like the second-best team in college football on Saturday night, utterly dismantling a team ranked in the top-10 through the first six weeks of the season.
Alas, there were a few mishaps.
▪ McSorley’s interception was an obvious miscommunication with Gesicki. He ran a double-move up the sideline, and the quarterback seemingly believed he was breaking to the sideline.
Not sure who was right and who was wrong; could be both.
Props to McSorley, though, for not giving up on the play and using his high school safety skills to keep Michigan’s David Long from a pick-six.
▪ Before he caught that fourth-quarter bobbled touchdown, Barkley dropped a sure-fire first down and possible score in the second stanza.
The back was free on a wheel route, but looked downfield before securing the ball. Had he caught it, Penn State would’ve been at Michigan’s 15, if not closer to the Wolverine end zone.
It would’ve led to at least a field goal attempt. Instead, Penn State later went for it on fourth-and-7 from Michigan’s 33 and didn’t convert.
▪ Penn State pressured Michigan quarterback John O’Korn all night — but he made the Nittany Lions pay a few times for blitzing off the edge.
On more than one occasion, Penn State didn’t get to O’Korn quick enough on outside blitzes, and he scrambled up the middle with success. Sacks aside, O’Korn had 46 rushing yards on seven carries.
Not the worst thing in the world for Penn State’s defense, but it’s something to shore up. J.T. Barrett could score touchdowns on those kinds of plays next week.
▪ I’ve got nothing, folks.
As James Franklin said after the game, his team is hitting on all cylinders in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams.
We’ll see if that continues in The Shoe.