Mike Gesicki

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Saquon Barkley scores 2 TDs as No. 4 Penn State pulls away vs. Pitt

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Big plays helped guide No. 4 Penn State (2-0) past a determined Pittsburgh (1-1) in Happy Valley. Despite Pitt’s workmanlike clock management giving the Nittany Lions offense little time on the field, the Panthers could only tie down Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions so much before they made some plays in a 33-14 victory Saturday afternoon.

Barkley finished his day with 88 rushing yards and a touchdown with 45 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. Barkley also got involved on kick return duty at times, with two kick returns for another 50 yards. Pitt managed to keep Barkley largely ineffective in the first half, but Penn State kept plugging away to get him involved, including back-to-back runs for first downs to start the second half. Trace McSorley found Barkley over the middle for a 46-yard touchdown to push Penn State to a 21-3 lead early in the third quarter.

Penn State’s defense had to grind out some plays and were put to the test against the Panthers’ offensive attack to work the clock. For the most part, Penn State answered the call with a pair of interceptions off Pitt quarterback Max Browne and allowing just three points off two separate 15-play drives. Browne was later taken out of the game after having to be examined for a cut on his forehead after his helmet popped off. Ben Dinucci took over and finished off Pitt’s only touchdown drive on the first play from scrimmage since entering the game.

McSorley did not have a particularly sharp afternoon, completing 15-of-28 for 164 yards, but he did score three touchdowns. The lone interception was a deep pass as time expired at the end of the first half, so it was not a costly turnover. McSorley did contribute to the running game with 65 yards. Tight end Mike Gesicki scored each of Penn State’s two first-half touchdowns, scoring both in the first quarter with one coming on Penn State’s first offensive snap from the eight-yard line following an interception return by Grant Haley.

Pitt will look to give their clock management another tough test next week when they return home to the western side of the state to face Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have scored 59 and 44 points in their first two games, including Friday night’s 44-7 victory at South Alabama. Oklahoma State edged Pitt in Stillwater a year ago in this home-and-home series, 45-38.

Penn State will play a third-straight home game next week before stepping foot into Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions will host Georgia State for the first meeting between the two schools. Penn State and Georgia State have previously worked together at satellite camps in Georgia.

Penn State leads Pitt 14-3, but Panthers working clock

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If the first half was any indication, Pittsburgh’s game plan is to work as much clock as possible to keep Penn State’s offense off the field. That has been fairly effective after one half of play in Happy Valley, but Penn State leads the Panthers 14-3.

Pitt has dominated the time of possession but despite having two 15-play drives has just scored three points. Keeping Penn State’s offense on the sideline has prevented the Nittany Lions from getting much momentum with the ball though, so we’ll see how long that strategy can pay off for the Panthers.

Penn State capitalized on a turnover on the first series of the game with a quick eight-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki one play after Grant Haley had picked off a pass by Pitt quarterback Max Browne. Haley’s 42-yard return gave the Nittany Lions great field position inside the Pitt 10-yard line.

Gesicki came up with the second touchdown of the game as well, hauling in a pass on a zone read by McSorley and finding his way to the pylon for a score after the Pitt defense was forced to shift directions after focusing on Barkley in the backfield.

Saquon Barkley has not had a chance to have much of an impact in this one so far, with just five rushing attempts for 22 yards so far.

With TE Mike Gesicki back in 2017, Penn State’s offense should be dangerous

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Penn State’s offense should be dangerous in 2017 with the return of rising quarterback Trace McSorley and one of the best running backs in the Big Ten, Saquon Barkley. On Thursday, another key piece of the offensive puzzle announced he will return for his senior season. Tight end Mike Gesicki thought about potentially leaving for the NFL with one year of eligibility remaining in State College, but he will instead return to Penn State next season to play one final year.

“After some in-depth thought and countless conversations with family, friends, temamates and coaches, I have decided to place all of my focus on the Rose Bowl and the task at hand, which is USC, and put a lifelong dream of mine on hold for one year,” Gesicki said in a statement released on Twitter. “I am beyond excited to announce that I will be returning for my senior season at the greatest university in the country and playing in front of the best fans in the world.”

This statement would seem to suggest Gesicki had at least a brief passing thought of following in a trend a handful of other players have opted for this bowl season, which is to sit out of the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft. Fortunately for Penn State, Gesicki chose to return for next season. Gesicki had the most receptions (47), receiving yards (668), and receiving yards per game (51.4) by a tight end in the Big Ten this season. Gesicki should be one of the top tight ends to return to the Big Ten next season as well, giving offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead another reliable tool in his tool box to work with.

Gesicki caught three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown in the Big Ten championship game victory over Wisconsin.

Wisconsin putting Penn State on the ropes in B1G title game

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Big mistakes and big gambles have staked No. 6 Wisconsin to a 28-14 lead over No. 7 Penn State through one half of the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.

The game opened perfectly for Wisconsin and vice versa for Penn State. The Badgers forced a three-and-out on the opening possession and promptly moved 81 yards in 14 well-crafted plays, consuming eight minutes on the dot to set up a 1-yard Austin Ramesh plunge to put the Badgers on the board. Wisconsin then forced another three-and-out and again turned its offensive opportunity into points, though these came on a 67-yard Corey Clement scoring dash.

Penn State answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, punctuated by a 33-yard beauty from Trace McSorley to Mike Gesicki, and threatened to climb all the way back in the game after forcing a Wisconsin punt. But an errant snap went over McSorley’s head and the quarterback, looking at the red-and-white calvary and not the football, could not corral the ball as Wisconsin defender Ryan Connelly returned the loose pigskin 12 yards for a touchdown.

Perhaps overcompensating for that mistake, Penn State’s next possession ended when James Franklin elected to go for a 4th-and-2 at his own 42 and McSorley’s pass fell incomplete. Wisconsin again punished the Nittany Lions for that mistake with a 5-play scoring drive, putting Penn State’s faint Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy with a 28-7 deficit with 5:15 to play in the second quarter.

Penn State again went for a 4th-and-short at midfield on their next possession. This try ended in a T.J. Watt sack, though Wisconsin did not turn this short field into points.

McSorley’s second touchdown pass of the half, a 40-yard coverage bust to Saeed Blacknall, pulled the Lions back within two scores at the 1:08 mark of the second quarter. McSorley has hit 12-of-20 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.

Bart Houston garnered the start for a banged up Alex Hornibrook and hit 6-of-10 passes for 66 yards while Clement carried 13 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. As a team, Wisconsin has out-rushed Penn State 164-39.

Wisconsin will receive to open the second half.