STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – If you decide to leap over your quarterback to celebrate a touchdown, you need confidence. Commit to it.
“I knew I was gonna clear him. I mean, he’s only maybe about 5’11, 6’. I just didn’t want him to move. That’s what you don’t want. If he moves and hits my leg, and I fall and get table-topped, the celebration wouldn’t have been nearly as cool. But I stuck the landing. 10s all around,” Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki said.
Gesicki felt compelled to hurdle Trace McSorley just as his quarterback ran in the Nittany Lions’ third touchdown in a 42-13 rout. The score was an answer to a brief, 13-point Michigan run to pull within a point.
Penn State threw a theme party with fireworks and way too many people and weird, successful plays and and no concern for tomorrow, and they had a damn good time.
If McSorley’s touchdown at the end of the half was the moment the cops left after giving a warning, Gesicki’s leap was the signal everyone could go right back to partying.
“You will literally not find that atmosphere anywhere … people say in college football, but I’d say anywhere. NFL, anything. The stadium was filled during warmups,” Gesicki said.
By the fourth quarter, the record-setting, white out crowd of 110,823 took itself out of the game, or at least out of the moment.
You could hear the words at field level, with time remaining in the fourth: “Ohio State.” Penn State lettermen prowled the sideline, talking about the same thing: “next week” and “Ohio State.”
“We will not talk about our next opponent. You can ask; I’m not answering,” head coach James Franklin said after the game. Then he started going through various reporters’ cell phones in front of his podium, looking for the time.
“OK, so it’s 23, [11:23 p.m. ET], so we have 37 minutes to enjoy this win,” Franklin said.
“I haven’t been around it much, but we’re playing well in all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. We can win the game in all three phases,” Franklin said.
So for 37 minutes, Penn State got to enjoy a nationally televised blowout instead of worrying about the next nationally televised game.
And that’s fine, because Saquon Barkley deserves your full attention, regardless of whether Ohio State’s comin’.
He scored three touchdowns and averaged 7.2 yards a carry with another series of ridiculous plays.
Barkley caught, bobbled, and regained a 42-yard touchdown pass from McSorley in the fourth quarter.
His second touchdown was out of a modified Wildcat, in which both Barkley and McSorley stayed behind center, right until Barkley took a direct snap and his quarterback played the RB role. Franklin said by not splitting McSorley out wide, Michigan was unable to check to a Wildcat defense call. It worked.
“It’s stuff that we worked on in camp,” Franklin said. “Then each week, we go back and say, what do we want to use out the playbook and from back in camp? Having that recall helps. All of this stuff you saw tonight, we’ve run before. We’ve got a mature football team that can recall on previous experiences.”
The versatility of coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offense really starts to show in Year 2. Combined with a roster heavy on experienced upperclassmen, Penn State is able to iterate on itself and tailor a larger and larger playbook to individual opponents.
In the space between avenging last year’s brutal, 49-10 loss in Ann Arbor and before all things Ohio State, everything is working right for Penn State.
Everything is good. Franklin can joke around; he complained that though the percentage of white pants had increased for this year’s whiteout, it wasn’t enough yet, and said he took “seven seconds” to appreciate the moment when fans held up their cell phones during a rendition of “Sweet Caroline.”
“We talked about it before the week started: it’s white out this week. We don’t care. It’s GameDay this week. We don’t care. It’s a sellout or a ranked opponent. Whatever. What we all saw last week during our bye was a lot of ranked teams, teams that got upset, and I was able to use them as an example,” Franklin said.
Right now, if you ask anyone around the program, everything is good, but could be better.
And every opponent is about the same, so long as Penn State wins.
Just as Franklin flattened the idea of a Pitt “rivalry” by comparing the Panthers to Akron, his players have picked up on the meme. When Gesicki was asked about the senior class not having beat Michigan during their time, he Akron’d them.
“We had the same mindset here as Northwestern. We had never beat them as well,” he said.
By Sunday, Penn State will compartmentalize and shift, trying to bottle all the emotions created by an absurd amount of really good things, using the same techniques they learned during the post-sanctions roster drought.