Penn St Practice Football

Penn State coach James Franklin talks to the team during NCAA college football practice Wednesday in State College.

Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE — James Franklin hopes that of the hours of film his players studied this week to prepare for Georgia State, one play in particular will stick with them.

It was made by Kobe Bryant.

“Kobe is coming down the court, goes behind his back, loses the ball; it’s a turnover,” Franklin said. “The (opponent) goes down the court for an easy layup and Kobe comes and pins the ball to the backboard.”

Franklin called the chase-down block by the Lakers great an “effort play.” He wants to see more of the football equivalent from his No. 5 Nittany Lions (2-0) who’ll face the Panthers (0-1) at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

“When you do that with all 11 guys on the field, you’re able to overcome maybe some deficiencies or maybe some mistakes or weaknesses,” Franklin said.

Right now, there aren’t many for Georgia State to exploit as the Panthers chase their first win over a Power Five team in nine tries.

Penn State has scored at least 30 points in 13 of its last 16 games and its deep defense has allowed just one touchdown so far this season. The Nittany Lions also boast some of the best special teams units in the country. Their explosive punt return group averages 20 yards per try while punter Blake Gillikin and kicker Tyler Davis have been nearly perfect.

“This is a great opportunity for us to go up there against one of the top-ranked teams in the country and measure ourselves right up against the very, very best,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “We’ve got a lot at stake for our football program here.”

Big numbers for Big Mike

Penn State’s Mike Gesicki could have entered the NFL draft last season but chose to return for his final year of eligibility.

“I knew I had more left in the tank,” Gesicki said.

He was right. Gesicki has picked up where he left off last season and needs one more touchdown catch to tie the career record (11) for a tight end with the program. It’d be wise to bet on him to do so on Saturday.

With 16 catches for 230 yards and seven touchdowns in his last five games, the 6-foot-6 senior has become a go-to target for McSorley on intermediate routes and in the red zone as linebackers and safeties tasked with defending him now have to also worry about Barkley in coverage.

More worry about No. 26

Barkley will also continue to field kickoffs as the coaching staff looks for more ways to unleash him in the open field.

Franklin left little doubt that he would budge from that game plan even though he’s seen and read criticism from fans and pundits who believe it exposes the Heisman Trophy candidate to unnecessary contact.

“Saquon has known that he was the starting kickoff return guy from the beginning,” Franklin said. “I just didn’t want to put it on the depth chart from a public perspective because people are going to start kicking away from (him).”

Penn State punt return dynamo DeAndre Thompkins broke the program’s nearly 9-year drought when he returned a punt for a score in Week 1. If Barkley can run a kickoff back, it would be the first such score for Penn State since the 2011 opener.


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