BY Jim Carlson
STATE COLLEGE —
What highlighted Garry Gilliam’s first game at a new position on offense was his quick transition to defense.
Not that the former 265-pound Penn State tight end who is now a 303-pound right tackle thought it was anything out of the ordinary.
Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish had stripped Penn State receiver Allen Robinson of the ball at the Orange 27-yard line and had only a lumbering Gilliam to elude to score a touchdown that would have given the Orange a 16-10 lead late in the third quarter at MetLife Stadium last Saturday.
Gilliam got the angle on Reddish, though, and ran him down at the Penn State 27. The drive died when Syracuse kicker Ross Krautman missed a game-tying 43-yard field goal and Penn State went on to win its season-opener 23-17.
“My teammates definitely said stuff about the tackle,” Gilliam said Wednesday. “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
“If you want to contribute, you have to do those things.”
Gilliam contributed very little in 2010 and nothing in 2011. A season-ending knee injury against Iowa in 2010 extended through the next year when an infection related to the surgery sidelined him.
He made eight starts at tight end last season, but finished with just seven catches for 65 yards. Urged by first-year coach Bill O’Brien to become a tackle, Gilliam put on nearly 40 pounds and won a close competition with fellow tackle Adam Gress to start the opener.
His key play Saturday failed to surprise his high school coach.
“That just kind of really demonstrated his versatility,” said Bob Guyer, Gilliam’s coach at Milton Hershey (Pa.) School. “I really wasn’t surprised he was able to make that transfer on that play and make the play in space. It’s his versatility and his skill set.”
Gilliam no longer catches the ball. He helps the Nittany Lions move it.
That was difficult against Syracuse, which routinely clogged running lanes with seven or eight defenders in the tackle box. Penn State ran for just 57 yards on 38 carries, but its offensive line was able to protect freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg and enable him to throw for 278 yards and two scores. That was enough for Gilliam to award himself a passing grade.
“My first game was probably easier than I thought it would be,” he said. “After the first drive, I got the confidence and continued to play well. I think for my first game, I did all right. The main difference is I’m on the field longer now than at tight end. I’m in for an entire drive.
“I like that a little bit more and I kind of get into a rhythm.”
Penn State faces Eastern Michigan (1-0) on Saturday in its home opener. Establishing a consistent running game tops Gilliam’s list of goals.
“We want it to be a big part of our offense and we have to open holes,” he said. “As the season progresses I have no doubt that our running game will get better.”