Sam Ficken Struggles Mightily as Penn State Falls to 0-2
Forcing four turnovers and holding an opponent to thirty eight rushing yards is traditionally a good recipe for winning a football game. Today’s contest between the Penn State Nittany Lions (0-2) and the Virginia Cavaliers (2-0) was anything but typical.
The teams combined for just under one hundred penalty yards. Both squads had backup quarterbacks play before starters later returned, and both teams averaged under three yards per rushing attempt.
The kicker– no pun intended– was Sam Ficken’s four missed field goals and blocked extra point. Those key misses ended up outweighing the several big plays by the defense, leading to a 17-16 loss at Scott Stadium that dropped the Nittany Lions to 0-2 for the first time since the 2001 season.
The game had a few parallels to last Saturday’s contest against Ohio. Penn State started off fast this time by scoring on their first drive of the game with Matt McGloin finding tight end Kyle Carter for an eight yard touchdown. The defense played well, forcing two turnovers and only allowing the Cavaliers in Nittany Lion territory twice. Just like last week, they ran into the tunnel at halftime having surrendered only three points, but also as was the case last week, the offense had squandered several opportunities. This time, rather than turnovers and dropped passes, missed field goals of forty and thirty eight yards by Ficken were the culprit along with poor clock management that halted first half drive engineered by true freshman Steven Bench. Bench appeared when McGloin left the field nursing an elbow injury.
The beginning of the third quarter also had a similar feel as the defense yielded a twelve play, seventy seven yard drive that resulted in a Cavaliers touchdown. This time, though, the Nittany Lions would not fold after relinquishing a second half lead. It took some time, but Penn State would jump back in front early in the fourth quarter as McGloin found Allen Robinson in the end zone for a thirty yard touchdown.
Still, all was not well. Ficken had missed a twenty yard field goal late in the third quarter and had his extra point following the Robinson touchdown blocked. A few minutes later, he would hit a thirty two yard field goal, but the extra point proved to be extra costly. Penn State clung to a 16-10 lead, but Michael Rocco and the Virginia offense went to work on their own fifteen yard line with 8:11 remaining in the game.
Ted Roof’s defense looked much better for a good portion of the day, but the unit could not make a big stop when it mattered most. Rocco converted five third down plays on the drive including a 3rd and 16 attempt that resulted in a forty four yard reception. The back-breaker was 3rd and goal from the six with ninety seconds remaining. Rocco dropped back, moved slightly to his right, and found a wide open Jake McGee in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
If the game was going to be salvaged, it would have to be done in poor weather–similar to the Illinois game last year. A light drizzle turned to hard rain which does not make things any easier for an already struggling kicker. On the final drive of the game, Adrian Amos returned the kickoff to the twenty seven yard line, and McGloin was masterful in getting the offense down the field. With ten seconds left, Bill O’Brien elected to sacrifice a few yards so Ficken could kick from the center of the field rather than on an angle. The decision never mattered as the forty two yard attempt was never even close. Wide left.
Just like that, the Nittany Lions had lost another winnable game, a game where they had a plus four turnover margin and went three for four on fourth down conversions. Ficken was terrible. There’s no denying it, but the offense consistently struggled to move the ball after four turnovers in Virginia territory. Those four ensuing drives went backwards three times and netted negative fourteen yards. Additionally, Virginia converted seven of nine third down attempts in the second half, which lead to the ugly result that overshadowed a lot of good.
Penn State is 0-2 for many reasons. Today, Sam Ficken bears much of the blame, but is certainly not the only reason. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions are not making the plays during key moments that good teams make in order to win games.
There will be a lot to discuss before next week’s home game against Navy. Tonight, there is a feeling of confusion and frustration as another one slipped away in painful fashion.
Other Notes and Stats:
- Allen Robinson has replaced Derek Moye as McGloin’s favorite target. The sophomore wide receiver had a few drops this afternoon, but also hauled in double digit receptions.
- It was nice to see Alex Kenney get involved in the passing game today, catching a few balls for fifty yards.
- Bill O’Brien certainly is not losing due to a lack of creativity. It seems like hes has never met a manageable fourth down he doesn’t like. He also executed a successful fake punt with linebacker Glenn Carson today.
- After the game, O’Brien said that quarterback Paul Jones will get some work at tight end in addition to being the third string quarterback. Go figure.