Fans around the country have watched as this Penn State team matured throughout the course of this year. The play on the field demonstrated the growth for all to see. It’s been nice to watch the players mature off the field as well.
Mike Gesicki was noticeably nervous when being interviewed following the Maryland game. When the session was over he immediately let out a huge, relieved breath that he had apparently been holding the whole time. Following the Iowa game he was a little more confident but still measured and quick with his answers. Someone joked that he wouldn’t have to do the post-game interviews if he’d stop making huge plays. Gesicki smiled and loosened up as a result.
At the Rose Bowl, on a much larger stage, Gesicki appeared to be measured and reserved by design, not by necessity. His composure has grown tremendously in just the past couple of months, both on and off the field. It’s hard to get him to talk about himself but he has a lot to say about his teammates.
Mike Gesicki, Junior tight end
You are the hardest guy to get sound bites from, the least talkative guy.
We're a few miles from Hollywood. Who is the most Hollywood guy on Penn State?
“Well, I mean, maybe the guy next to me (Daesean Hamilton), but we actually, one of our tight ends, his name is Jon Holland, and his nickname is Hollywood. Everybody calls him Hollywood. We've been joking around with him all week about it. He came here with that nickname. I'm assuming it has to do with the Holland last name, kind of goes along with it.”
On Joe Moorhead announcing that he will return to the team for 2017:
“I think it's awesome. I talked to Coach Moorhead before I made my decision. And, you know, he told me he's coming back and all that kind of stuff.
It was awesome to hear that and have that reassurance. That was a crucial part to my decision. Just coming back, being able to play in his offense again with a bunch of guys coming back and a bunch of crucial pieces. So feels good, and I'm happy with it.”
“I talked to Coach Moorhead before I made my decision. I sat down with him and Coach Rahne, Coach Franklin and talked to them about it all, and they were unbelievable resources. Coach Moorhead told me he was staying. That was obviously huge for me just because I love playing in his offense. Obviously, had some success in it, as well. So I'm looking forward to another year in it.”
“There's definitely a bunch of resources for us. I mean, there's definitely a bunch of people to talk to. I definitely, I talked to a few guys at the next level and guys I was friends with, Jessie and Hack and people like that, just because they were and still are very good friends of mine and they went through the exact same process. They're good resources for me.
But Penn State also gives you a bunch of resources and the coaches are awesome to talk to, especially Coach Franklin. He's coached in the NFL. He's coached in college. He's had players leave early. He's had players stay. They've kind of all been through it. It was good to have that help.”
“Kind of as the season's gone on as well, kind of focus on what's ahead of you and all that stuff and control the controllables.
Coach Moorhead is obviously a phenomenal coach, has done a great job with this offense. This is one of the most explosive offenses in Penn State football history. Look at the numbers. That's just facts.
Obviously, having Coach Moorhead here, we love having him here and want him for as long as possible.”
On his decision to return to the team and whether he got a draft grade:
“Yeah, I mean, they obviously, you know, they give you a grade and all that kind of stuff. I'm not going to go into specifically what it was. But had some good stuff on there, some things that, you know, I was happy about.
But, also, for myself, some room to improve and some things to get better on. So, you know, going to go into this game on Monday and focus on winning this game.
Once the off-season comes, have a whole new list of things to improve on just like I did last off-season and continue to improve and move on.”
What he will work to improve in the future:
“I think two things. One thing would be, which I think I've done all season long, which I think I've improved on all season long would be run after the catchability. I think it's gotten a lot better. I used to be kind of catch ball, tackle, whatever it was. Now I've shown I can be physical, you know. I can get some yards after the catch. I can break a tackle here and there, things like that. I'm going to focus on yards after the catch.
And then, obviously, continue to improve in blocking. Rather than just being satisfied with stalemating, I want to get some more movement. That's obviously going to also come from the weight room and getting bigger, stronger, all that kind of stuff.
For the most part, focus on run after the catch and focus on blocking.”
“People say, you know, receiving tight end. I mean, my ultimate goal is to be a complete tight end. I think that obviously, this year, I've been very efficient being a receiving tight end. But also, you know, have improved in the blocking game and trying to become a full, complete tight end to kind of, you know, just continue to improve.”
On Saquon Barkley:
“I always just say let 26 be 26 and that's really what we do. Saquon's obviously had a bunch of success not only this year, but also last year. He's definitely getting recognition around the country and he deserves it.
But I think that, you know, the thing that impressed me the most is his preparation and the things he does when people aren't watching, whether it's in the film room and he said earlier in the year when he jumped over the dude from Maryland, he knew he was going to do it because he watched him on film a hundred times kind of take out the dude's legs. So I think his preparation and the things he does when people aren't watching is the thing that is really impressive.”
“He's definitely an unbelievable athlete, has made some incredible plays. I would say I'm shaking my head, but it's kind of what you expect from him at this point. That's kind of the expectation.”
Ryan Bates, freshman guard
On the development of the line from the start of the season:
“You know, where we started in the beginning of the year versus Kent State, it's very different personnel we have right now due to injuries, like you said before, and we've grew together as a unit, I feel like, collectively, and you know what, we're a bunch of ass kickers right now, and it's going real good right now.”
His mid-season move to tackle:
“Yeah, it's a different animal. I got to see what it was going to be like in – I played in our All-American game, and I got to see what type of talent I was going to play, I was going to revert to tackle because that's what I was in the game and then I was at center and then guard, moving from guard to tackle obviously is different. You're versing more agile, more quicker guys, not as big guys as playing at guard and playing those three techs and those nose guards. It's different, but I feel like I'm adjusting really well.”
“When I first got here, I was a center and then I got moved to right guard, then I got moved to left guard, now I'm at tackle.
I feel like a lot of people on the offensive line are very versatile. Chasz [Wright] has played guard, now he's a tackle, and he can switch back and forth. Same thing with Brendan Mahon and [Brian] Gaia, and Connor [McGovern], as well, Connor has gotten reps at tackle before and he was a center too, when he got here. All of us are very versatile in each position, and that helps a lot.”
On freshman Connor McGovern playing as a true freshman:
“That was very hard. I give him – I've been through it, and I felt like my true freshman year I wasn't quite ready, but when he came in, and he was physically ready, and he's got the tools to succeed, and he's going to be a good player in the future.”
“Well, it's all like a big thing – a part of it was mentally. When he first came in he was making freshman mistakes, and I still make freshman mistakes sometimes. He's learning from his experience, his experience, all he's had, and he's doing really well right now, and he's going to be a good player.”
The freshman lineman that made it through the season with their red-shirt intact:
“(Will Fries) and Mike Menet have been going really well, as well as Alex Gellerstedt, everyone in that class, and they'll be promising young football players. Specifically Will, he's been at left tackle, he's moved to right tackle, and I think right now he's at left tackle, and he's second-team or third-team left tackle, and of course it's the last game of the season, I don't think you'll be able to see him, but he had a little bit of a foot problem halfway through the year, but he's came back, and while he's got obviously a little bit more developing he's got to do, but he's going to be a really good player.”
“We have all these high recruits coming in and we have all these people coming back. It will be Brendan Mahon coming back and Andrew Nelson coming back. I think the only person we're losing from the offensive line is Wendy Laurent and Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia. They were good players, but I feel like everyone coming in and everyone how they're developing right now, I feel like they can – people right now can fill those roles, and I feel like we're going to be a very good O-line in the future.”
DaeSean Hamilton, Junior Wide Receiver:
On the weather and experience so far at the Rose Bowl:
“Yeah, it's been nice out here. Yeah, coming from the snow, State College, and coming out here, sunny, 80° weather all day, and a nice little breeze at nighttime when we're out and about in the city and things like that. It's been really fun.
“Yeah, people seeing what we've been doing on the social media feeds and stuff like that. Plus they're three hours ahead. The time difference is so crazy, they're going to bed by the time we're finished with everything and finally able to have some free time. But they've been able to keep up with a lot of the stuff we've been doing and seeing all the events we've been at, like Lawry's and going to Disneyland and stuff like that.”
“Best part so far I think was aside from the team events we've been doing, especially last night's dinner – that was really good – going out on Melrose Avenue. I was really excited to do that. I liked to shop for a little bit. That was pretty fun. Seeing Melrose on movies and being out in Hollywood, that was pretty fun. I want to go back to Hollywood and see the Hollywood Stars and things like that on the sidewalks and stuff like that. Explore Beverly Hills a little bit more, and that's about it.”
On whether he will return to Penn State next season:
“I've just been really focused on USC. I haven't necessarily worried about anything that comes after this or taking my mind away from this Rose Bowl Game specifically. But other than that, I've just been focusing on USC.”
On Adoree’ Jackson, USC’s Thorpe Award-winning cornerback:
“He's very athletic. He relies on his athleticism, and that's why he's been able to make so many plays throughout the year. Very fast. He's not scared of any competition. That's the type of competition that we like to embrace. All the receivers are looking for is that match-up, whoever we're lined up across from and things like that. Really you just see he's a great competitor, he loves the game, and he just goes out there and loves making plays.”
How he was able to bounce back after the critical drop against Pitt:
“Yeah, I credit that to my teammates and coaches. They're staying on me every single day in practice. I just came to work every day as if nothing happened beforehand. Just having that attitude no matter what happens after that, you're not going to always have instant success after that. But staying the course, and making sure you're coming in and ready to work every single day, that's really what helped me. You really see a lot of situations like that, and basically it's just all of it comes down to the individual. If you're strong minded, you're going to be able to bounce back from something like that. And I believe that's what I was able to do. As long as you have a great supporting staff, your family and friends and coaches and things like that, then you'll be able to get through anything.”
On Irvin Charles, who is expected to step up with Saeed Blacknall suspended:
“Irvin Charles, he's a freak, actually. I wish I had the body, the build, the speed that he has as a receiver. But he's probably the most talented guy in our room. The sky's really the limit for him. We all tell
him, I specifically tell him because I took him under my wing when he got here. But I tell him specifically he could probably be one of the best receivers in the nation. All it comes down to is gaining confidence, gaining that experience on the college football forum and things like that. As long as he believes that and takes that and has a chip on his shoulder while he's doing it, I think he'll be able to accomplish that.”
Who started the Kodak Black flashing the grills celebration:
“I'm actually glad you brought that up. I want this to be known right now that I was the very first person, at least from Penn State, to start
that. You can go on Instagram and see that and see my tagged pictures and stuff like that. But Marcus Allen took it and ran with it. I'm not going to say anything.”
“You can bring him back in here, I promise you, I will tell him I started that. It was even before Kodak Black and things like that. I did it because I'd seen another rapper do it. But I'll say right now, I was the first person to do that.”
“For people like me and Marcus Allen in our area, we have this little thing where you wear grills like your front six grills. So people pull down the lip so you'll be able to see the grill for the pictures and things like that.”
“Marcus Allen is an energy guy every single day, no matter what. When we're out there at practice, long days at practice, he keeps the energy up. He's one of the guys that's like – he's infectious.
That type of energy rubs off on everybody else. That's really what our defense has been able to play like because they're an exciting group to watch, led by Marcus and Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda, and all those guys bringing energy to our team really helps a lot.”
Trace McSorley, Sophomore Quarterback:
On his home run swing celebration:
“Just kind of came up it with it in the spring, and one of our other quarterbacks, Billy Fessler, we talked about wanting to do something, a little type of celebration going through spring ball.
Coach [Joe] Moorhead brought a lot of passion, a lot of energy to the team and I was talking about, celebrate success, things like that, not going overboard, but having fun with your teammates.
So that was kind of our thought process behind doing something, and we wanted to do something where we could kind of be incorporated in some way. He just actually tossed up a baseball, and then I just do the baseball swing, and then it caught on, a little more than expected.”
USC’s defensive approach:
“Well, you just kind of see the different kind of looks that they present and how they try and disguise their different coverages and their pressures and things like that. Looking at individual players, how they play certain techniques and different coverages, how they are playing, things like that.”
“It's a little bit different. Just the type of athlete they have got, they are real fast, and that's really across the board: Defensive line, linebackers and especially in the back end. They are real athletic and very fast and they play with a lot of passion and a lot of energy and they are very physical. Similar to some things we've seen but just a little bit different being USC and Pac-12, just a little bit different.”
Combating the speed and depth of the Trojans:
“Well, just kind of got to play with a lot of speed in practice. You try to get as much speed work as you can. And then Coach Moorhead always says, "Don't let the speed of the game surprise you."
So that comes with mentally being prepared for what you're going to see. So then if you can mentally be prepared for the looks that you're going to see and the speed that it happens at, it won't surprise you as much.
And then the speed work in practice. Getting as many full speed reps, scout teams, giving you a great full-speed look each and every day, that's the best way you can prepare for that.”
The fact that he has multiple weapons to throw to, not just one ‘go to’ guy:
“I think it's tremendously valuable as a quarterback because it doesn't let the defense focus in on one guy. We have got DaeSean [Hamilton], Chris [Godwin], DeAndre [Thompkins], Mike [Gesicki]. Even Irv and Juwan and all the guys on the outside, they are big, they are strong, they are fast, they are athletic. They can beat you in a variety of ways and they are not all the same type of receivers.
Some guys are bigger and they are a little different in and out of their routes. The type of variety that we have at the receiver position is tremendous for us, so it really creates a lot of problems for defenses.”
On Adoree’ Jackson:
“No, he's definitely a game changer. A guy of his capability, any time you throw the ball near him, he can make a play. When he gets the ball in his hands or he gets his hand on the ball, he's a threat to do something with it.
He's a big-play guy, so you have to be aware of the type of player he is and where he is at all times, knowing how he plays guys and how he can play in certain different coverages and not being away from him, but respecting the type of player that he is. Not being scared of it, but respect that he is a tremendous talent and he's a tremendous player. You have got to know that and be aware of that.”
The magnitude of playing in the Rose Bowl:
“Yeah, Rose Bowl is one of the most iconic games, if not the most iconic game, in college football. It's a game that as a kid, you dream about playing, and you watch it every year growing up. You get the opportunity to go to a Big Ten school or a Pac-12 school, that's what you want to be playing in at the end of every year. You want to be playing in the Rose Bowl.
So it's definitely going to be a surreal feeling. I've got a lot of family out in the L.A. area. They are all going to be there. Really the only time that they will ever get to see me play. So it's definitely very emotional for me for them to be able to be out there. Kind of was always out here as a kid and always see the Rose Bowl growing up, driving by it and stuff.
It's definitely going to be maybe a little bit emotional but it's going to be a surreal moment. Try and take as much of it in and get ready to play.”
In the locker room at halftime:
“There's not a lot of changes. There will be a little bit of change here and there. Sometimes you come back in, we've just got to execute better with what we've got called. We have plays there and we are just not executing it to our full potential; or we come back, he throws us a new wrinkle, and we come up with how we are going to attack and how we are going to play against that look.
So kind of depends on how that game is going. Usually it's a little bit of both. We have to execute better a lot of times, and a lot of times it's getting new wrinkle, how you are going to adjust and make different adjustments at halftime.”
How he is coached to make the right play-call:
“We talk a lot about it through our meetings with tips, a lot of pre-snap tips we can get. There's not necessarily one thing. They are not necessarily looking for one specific coverage to make sure we get in the right place, man- or zone-type deal, something like that, pressure versus non-pressure, base defensive looks that we are kind of looking for.
He's done a really good job this year with making sure we are in the right play and him being down on the field so we can have that person-to-person contact on the sidelines in between drives, I think has been big for us.
He's talking to the quarterbacks, so we are all on the same page with what he's looking for and what we want to go to with certain looks and certain coverages and pressures and things like that.
There have obviously been a couple times where we might get skunked into something, and he's the first guy to point the thumb, not the finger, if something goes wrong. He's done a very good job with that and he's been a very good benefit for our offense.”