This was a tough one to swallow. Penn State took a 16-10 lead into the final eight minutes of today’s game at Virginia, but Cavaliers quarterback Michael Rocco drove his team down the field for the win. The series culminated with a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack McGee with just 1:28 on the clock.
Quarterback Matt McGloin and the Nittany Lions countered with a drive of their own. McGloin completed a pass to Kyle Carter to get Penn State into field goal range and then centered the ball on the 42-yard line to set up a potential game-winning field goal. However, Sam Ficken, who struggled with his kicking all day, hooked the ball left and Penn State left the field defeated once again.
Here’s the five most important things for Penn State fans to take away from the loss.
Penn State forced four turnovers while committing none of their own
I’d love to know the last time Penn State had four more takeaways than giveaways and still managed to lose the game. Part of the problem was that the Lions had trouble punching the ball into the end zone, but it’s hard to imagine PSU losing if Ficken had made just one more field goal. Tight end Paul Freedman’s fumble on Virginia’s first possession led to a missed field goal. Likewise with Jordan Hill’s incredible interception in the second quarter. Penn State went three and out and punted after a third quarter Virginia fumbled snap. The last turnover, caused by Deion Barnes’ sack of backup quarterback Phillips Sims, resulted in Ficken’s only made field goal of the game.
Three points off of four turnovers is no way to go through life. Also, if you count missed field goals as equal to turnovers (they pretty much are), then Penn State also turned the ball over four times. No wonder this one came down to the wire.
Sam Ficken made only one of five field goals and one of two extra points
Penn State had five more first downs than Virginia (19-14) and gained 35 more yards (330-295) in addition to the aforementioned turnovers advantage. Of course, a big reason why Penn State fell short was Sam Ficken’s inability to kick a football through the uprights. Ficken missed from 40 yards, 38 yards, 20 yards and 42 yards. He did hit on a 32-yard field goal that put Penn State up 16-10 in the fourth quarter, but Virginia ended up winning by one in part because Ficken had an extra point blocked earlier in the game. I’m not sure what Ficken looked like in practice, but I can’t imagine he was this bad. I also don’t know where Penn State goes from here in regards to the kicking situation. Hopefully we’ll learn more during the week.
Defensive end Deion Barnes sacked the quarterback two times
After watching the Ohio game, it didn’t seem like Penn State had a standout pass rusher, but Barnes may be turning into a menace for the opposition. On one play in the fourth quarter, Barnes rushed around highly regarded Virginia tackle Morgan Moses and sacked Sims while forcing a fumble that was recovered by Michael Mauti. Barnes also sacked Rocco for a loss of one yard on Virginia’s last possession. Heading into this game, I was afraid that Penn State’s pass rush would be completely stymied by Virginia’s tackles Moses and Oday Aboushi, but now it looks like the Lions may have some potential on the end of the line.
Allen Robinson caught 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown
Robinson proved his performance last week was no fluke, as he continued to be the go-to guy for both McGloin and backup quarterback Steven Bench. Robinson was targeted a ridiculous 20 times, and while most of his catches went for less than 10 yards, his diving 30-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter was remarkable. Robinson appeared to hurt his head on that play, but he didn’t stay out of the game for long.
McGloin and Bench could have done a better job of spreading the ball around. The only other Penn State players with more than one receptions were Kyle Carter (four catches for 33 yards and a touchdown) and Alex Kenney (three catches for 50 yards).
McGloin exited the game with an injury in the second quarter, but he later returned
Penn State’s offense took a turn for the ugly when McGloin suffered an apparent arm injury in the second quarter and was forced into the locker room. Steven Bench took over the offense with just under four minutes remaining in the half and threw a couple of near interceptions after a barrage of rushing to start the drive. Penn State would eventually run out of time at the Virginia 35-yard line and Bench’s performance did not inspire confidence in the freshman. That said, Bench is just a freshman, so what does his performance say about the guy he just passed on the depth chart, Paul Jones?
It says Paul Jones is a crappy quarterback, and Penn State fans should pray that McGloin doesn’t get hurt again.