When Bill O’Brien made the decision to put names on the back of the Nittany Lions’ jerseys this year, he said the switch from tradition was not necessarily permanent, but he wanted to pay tribute to the players who stuck with the program.
After the day he had on Saturday, Penn State kicker Sam Ficken might prefer a bit more anonymity.
On a day when the Nittany Lions nearly left Scott Stadium with an upset win, Ficken had one of the worst days a college football player can have.
In the first quarter, following a fumble recovery in Cavalier territory, Ficken missed a field goal from 40 yards out. In the second quarter, he missed two more. In the third quarter, he missed again, this time from only 20 yards out. After Penn State took a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, his extra point was blocked. Ficken finally connected later in the fourth on a 32-yard field goal that put the Nittany Lions ahead by six. But with the game on the line after Virginia had scored on its most impressive drive of the day, Ficken missed from 42 yards out. It was a fitting end to an awful day for the sophomore kicker.
The result was a 17-16 loss for Penn State. For the first time since 2001, the Nittany Lions are 0-2 to start the season. It’s only the ninth time in the program’s 126-year history that they’ve started the season 0-2.
Remember those sanctions? The NCAA allowed players from Penn State to transfer without penalty, meaning they would be allowed to play for their new team immediately. Nine left Happy Valley. And while running back Silas Redd, who transferred to USC, got most of the attention, on Saturday it was the loss of kicker Anthony Fera that hurt the most. After all, he would have been in on the field goals and extra points, and Ficken would have been spared.
If last week’s lost to Ohio stung, this one hurt. Once again, O’Brien went for it repeatedly on fourth down (a total of four times), although it’s becoming clear that may have as much to do with his kicker as it does his aggressive style. Things looked good early as Penn State drove 75 yards on a first-possession drive that lasted 7:27 and ended in a touchdown pass from Matt McGloin to Kyle Carter. (On that drive, Penn State went for it on 4th-and-1 from its own 45-yard line.) There would be a fake punt in Penn State territory in the second quarter, and though the Nittany Lions converted, they didn’t score on the drive. And there were clock management issues at the end of the half, as Penn State was driving but ran out of time at the Virginia 35-yard line.
McGloin went to the locker room in the second quarter with an elbow injury but returned a few plays into the third quarter. In the fourth, he connected with Allen Robinson on a 30-yard touchdown that put the Nittany Lions ahead by three. The extra point was blocked.
But just like last week, the Penn State defense, which played great for most of the day (the defense forced four turnovers in Virginia territory but the offense only scored three points off the takeaways), could not stop Virginia, which marched 86 yards in a 12-play drive that lasted over six minutes, as Penn State’s defense again struggled on third down. Virginia scored with 1:31 left, and although McGloin led the Nittany Lions down the field, you could see this one ending the way it did.
Another missed field goal and another loss for Penn State.
Charles Costello is a lifelong fan of the Nittany Lions. Click here to read his commentary on Penn State’s Week 1 loss to Ohio.
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