The start of the Bill O’Brien era has been one to forget for the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco led a last minute drive that produced a touchdown to Jake McGee to put the Cavaliers up 17-16 before a last second field goal attempt by Penn State’s Sam Ficken that sailed wide left to give Virginia the win.
For the second time in two weeks, Penn State (0-2) surrendered a second half lead to start the season 0-2 for the first time since 2001. Despite an outstanding effort from Penn State’s defense that forced four turnovers, the Nittany Lions couldn’t overcome four missed field goals from kicker Same Ficken, including an extra point, in the one point loss.
For the Cavaliers, turning the ball over four times wasn’t exactly in the game plan, but Rocco and Co. came through at the right time to save the day. The truth of the matter is that Virginia (2-0) was lucky to even have a shot in this one after the turnovers and overall sloppy play that included 10 penalties for 70 yards. But the Nittany Lions left 13 points on the board due to missed field goals and an extra point. Penn State also managed just three points off those four Cavalier turnovers.
Penn State’s offense got off to a great start with a long opening drive that was capped with a touchdown pass from Matt McGloin to tight end Kyle Carter. McGloin showed some toughness staying in the game after taking a few shots to his throwing elbow in the first half. Freshman Steven Bench came in for a few series and was 2 for 7 for 12 while running for another 18 in place of McGloin, who returned in the third quarter. Virginia took the lead at 10-7 with a touchdown from Rocco to Jeremiah Mathis late at the 9:22 mark of the third quarter. The Nittany Lions responded early in the fourth quarter with a 30-yard touchdown pass from McGloin to Allen Robinson, who had 10 catches for 89 yards on the day. McGloin finished with 197 yards and the two scores.
After an actual field goal from Sam Ficken, the Lions led 16-10 with 10:55 left in the fourth quarter. After exchanging three and outs and pointless drives, Rocco, who was benched for two drives in the third quarter, led the Cavaliers down the field and a touchdown to McGee with 1:28 remaining in the game. Armed with one timeout, McGloin guided the Lions offense methodically down the field and setup kicker Sam Ficken with a 42 yard field goal to win the game.
After missing from 40, 38 and 20 yards, the junior kicker missed badly on his game-winning attempt from 42 yards out. Ficken is just two for seven in his collegiate career kicking field goals. Penn State’s kicker from last season, Anthony Fera, transferred to Texas following the NCAA sanctions as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
Credit Michael Rocco and the Cavaliers for sticking with a game that they basically tried to give their visitors and pulling out the victory. For Penn State, it was yet another afternoon of missed opportunities. While Ficken missed all those kicks, McGloin and the offense had plenty of chances to punch balls into the endzone and not leave the game up to the kickers foot. That being said, Bill O’Brien and his staff have to find a way to alleviate what is a horrendously poor kicking situation in Happy Valley at the moment.
Positives that he can take away from his second-straight loss as Penn State coach include his defense’s ability to force turnovers and make plays. Namely senior linebacker Michael Mauti was all over the place on the day, tallying nine tackles as well as forcing and recovering a fumble. Defensive end Deion Barnes was also impressive with two sacks and a forced fumble for the Nittany Lions. We also started to see the emergence of receiver Allen Robinson for the second-straight week.
Game Ball: Sam Ficken…just kidding. Michael Rocco, QB, Virginia. – Rocco showed great mental toughness leading the Cavaliers to a win after he was benched for a couple series in the third quarter in favor of backup Phillip Sims. Rocco was lights out after coming back into the game and leading Virginia to a 2-0 record.
Looking ahead, the Lions are back at Beaver Stadium to try and avoid an 0-3 start when they welcome the Navy Midshipmen next Saturday.