Penn State drops heartbreaker at Virginia
College Football Videos
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It seemed as much a vexing riddle as it did an agonizing question after the Penn State football team dropped to 0-2 in heartbreaking and mind-boggling fashion at Virginia.
How did the Nittany Lions force four turnovers, three of which set up the offense inside Virginia's 20-yard line, outgain the Cavaliers and still lose?
Answer: The offense went backward by a collective 14 yards in possessions following Virginia turnovers.
Missed opportunities, the scattershot right leg of a tormented kicker and one of the few big plays yielded by a dominating defense were too much for Penn State to overcome Saturday in a 17-16 loss at Scott Stadium.
The game ended, fittingly, on a missed field goal as rain pelted the field and the announced crowd of 56,087.
Sam Ficken's 42-yard attempt sailed left of the goalposts, allowing the victorious Cavaliers to run onto the field to celebrate an unlikely win.
Nobody had a rougher game — or longer plane ride home — than Ficken, who missed four field goals, including a 20-yarder, and had an extra point blocked. The sophomore became the Nittany Lions' kicker when Anthony Fera, who made 14 of 17 field-goal attempts last year, transferred to Texas.
Penn State's sports information department didn't make Ficken available to the media.
Despite his struggles, Ficken earned a vote of confidence from Bill O'Brien, who will try to notch his first win next Saturday against visiting Navy.
“Sam's our kicker, and we'll see the things we can do to help Sam get better,” O'Brien said after Penn State dropped to 0-2 for the first time since 2001.
“It's never always about the kicker. I could have called better plays. We could have executed better. I think there's a lot of positives. I think these kids play very, very hard. I'm proud to be associated with them. I think they emptied the tank, and I really appreciate it.”
They were left with mostly an empty feeling because of a quarterback with Penn State ties who was flawless when the Nittany Lions needed one final stop.
Benched earlier in the second half after losing a fumble, Michael Rocco completed 6 of 6 passes for 97 yards in leading the touchdown drive that gave Virginia the lead with 1 minute, 28 seconds remaining.
The dagger came on third-and-16 from Virginia's 22.
Rocco, whose father played quarterback on Penn State's 1982 national championship team, escaped pressure and heaved a pass that tight end Jake McGee caught between two defenders for a 44-yard gain.
Rocco capped the 12-play, 86-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to McGee. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin couldn't quite match those heroics, though the senior did give his team a chance to win at the end.
McGloin, who gutted through an elbow injury that briefly knocked him out of the game, said the loss stung even more because of how much the players want to get O'Brien his first victory.
“It kills you inside,” McGloin said after throwing for 197 yards and two touchdowns. “The guy's doing everything he can for us. We're playing as hard as we can on the field and it just kind of feels like something's stopping us. With this team we have and staff we have and support we have, we'll find a way to get it done, I promise you that.”
The Nittany Lions have mostly stopped themselves in the first two games, and they are arguably four plays, if not fewer, removed from a 2-0 record.
Not that any of that mattered to outside linebacker Michael Mauti as he sat in a makeshift media room in Scott Stadium while waiting for McGloin to finish his interview.
Mauti had been all over the field, recording a team-high nine tackles while causing and recovering a fumble, but it was not enough.
The four turnovers weren't enough, either.
“All we can do is our job, and everybody's responsible for their job,” Mauti said of the defense, “and that's all I've got to say about that.”
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fissures begin to emerge among Dems
- Steelers’ backups ready to run
- Western Pa. business owners urge shoppers to think small
- Pregnant woman struck by van in North Side dies; doctors save baby
- Starkey: Rutherford will add when timing’s right
- Miami coach Golden shrugs off recent losses as Pitt visits
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- WPIAL seniors embrace final home game at Penn State
- Pitt’s Dixon searching for answers in Maui
- Pirates notebook: Autographs to come at a cost at PirateFest
- Snow expected to taper off in Pittsburgh by mid-afternoon