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Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki seems likely to play against Northwestern

| Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, 7:15 p.m.
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki (88) has four touchdown receptions in two games this season. He had five in 2016.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki (88) has four touchdown receptions in two games this season. He had five in 2016.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Tight end Mike Gesicki is expected to play when No. 4 Penn State visits Northwestern on Saturday at Ryan Field, coach James Franklin said at his news conference Tuesday.

Franklin confirmed the news about Gesicki, who left last week's game against Indiana late in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury, by declining to give an update on the senior's injury.

But as he progressed in his answer, Franklin reversed course and suggested Gesicki likely will play against the Wildcats, though even that response was hardly straightforward.

“No update on Mike. I know you've got to ask, and I think you all know what my answer is going to be, but no update,” Franklin said. “I mean, we expect Mike to play on Saturday, as well as the other tight ends.”

Penn State's other tight ends are relatively inexperienced in comparison to Gesicki, who is widely regarded as one of the best tight ends in the FBS.

Jonathan Holland and Tom Pancoast have combined for four catches for 26 yards in the Nittany Lions' five games. Gesicki, who enjoyed a breakout junior campaign in 2016, has 20 receptions for 167 yards and four touchdowns this season.

As a whole, the Nittany Lions offense boasts enough explosiveness to compensate for the loss of Gesicki if he's unavailable to play or isn't at 100 percent.

Gesicki is one of five Penn State players with at least 10 receptions.

“You know, we don't go into games saying we're going to throw the ball to Mike Gesicki 10 times,” Franklin said of the way his team distributes the ball. “It's however the game goes and however the game flows.”

Still, it's hard to argue the impact Gesicki's physical presence has on the outcomes of games. With Gesicki on the field, opposing teams are forced to defend him with the player who creates the smallest physical mismatch in Gesicki's favor.

Most linebackers, for instance, have the size to defend the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end, but they lack the speed and athleticism to keep up with him in coverage. Most defensive backs have the opposite problem: They have the speed to keep up with him in the passing game, but they lack the size to have a legitimate chance when fighting with him for 50/50 balls.

Either way, it should be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead decides to run his unit this week following Gesicki's injury.

Does Penn State elect to use Gesicki sparingly if it gets a big enough lead, just as a precautionary measure? Does Gesicki feel strong enough by game time to carry his normal workload? Does Franklin choose to have Gesicki dress but not play him? All of these hypotheticals, naturally, will impact Moorhead's calls.

However, Gesicki's status could also affect the way Northwestern plans for the Nittany Lions' dynamic attack, which is probably why Franklin doesn't give injury updates. And when he does, he makes sure he's vague enough to keep opposing teams on their toes.

Matt Martell is a freelance writer.

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