CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Of course it was raining.
Clouds have hung over Penn State for months. That the skies opened up before their final drive was fitting.
Sam Ficken had already missed three field goals. Had an extra point blocked. And now there was rain. And fans screaming at him as loud as they could still manage, chanting his uniform number -- "Nine-ty-Sev-en!" -- in their best sing-song tone.
The noise intensified. The snap was low. The kick hooked wide left.
Penn State fell to 0-2.
Not a fourth quarter rally nor four forced turnovers was enough to get Bill O'Brien his first win. Virginia slipped and stumbled around the field for four quarters but scored in the final 90 seconds for a 17-16 win.
Matt McGloin, returning from a mid-game elbow injury, led the Lions down the field in the two-minute offense to give his team a shot to win with one second left on the clock, but a fifth miss on a kicking play on the afternoon -- this one from 42 yards out -- sunk the team.
"It's never always about the kicker," O'Brien said. "The kicker is always the one to get blamed, but it's the whole operation -- the snap, the hold, the kick. We have to take a look at that. There's no substitute for hard work.
"We'll have to go back as a staff and talk about it, but Sam is our kicker."
With Anthony Fera having transferred to Texas following the NCAA sanctions on the program, Ficken remains Penn State's best option on field goals.
And with that in mind, O'Brien and his players defended the sophomore kicker without hesitation after the game.
"Sam did not lose us this game whatsoever," McGloin said.
"I just told him that this isn't his fault," junior guard John Urschel said. "We win as a team, we lose as a team. And one player doesn't make or break the game. One play doesn't make or break the game. We're all responsible as a team for this loss."
The man had a point.
Ficken's line was certainly tough to look at. He finished 1-of-5 on field goals, missing from 40, 38 and even 20 yards before the 42-yarder at the end of the game. He was 1-of-2 on extra points.But there was an uglier stat for Penn State.
The defense managed to force four turnovers, all deep in Virginia territory. On the ensuing four drives, the offense managed just three points on a net of minus-14 yards.
"All we can do is our job," senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. "Everybody's responsible for their job. And that's all I can really say about that."
Mauti did his job as well as anyone, leading the team in tackles for a second straight week with nine. He had a hand in two of the four turnovers, stripping tight end Paul Freedman on a completion on Virginia's first play from scrimmage. In the fourth quarter, he scooped up a fumble on a sack by Deion Barnes at the Cavaliers' 17.
That led to Ficken's lone make of the day, hitting a line drive from 32 yards out. O'Brien initially had his offense line up to go for it, but he called timeout and sent Ficken out to give it a shot.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill had an interception and linebacker Gerald Hodges recovered a botched snap for the other two turnovers. Neither led to any points.
Penn State had trailed 10-7 to open the fourth quarter. But McGloin hooked up with Allen Robinson (10 catches, 89 yards) for a 30-yard score, the first of the sophomore's career to put the Lions on top.
The ensuing extra point was blocked, but a Ficken field goal made it 16-10 with 11 minutes to play.
As many big plays as the defense came up with, however, the unit continued to struggle on third downs. A week after Ohio converted 11-of-12 third downs in the second half, Virginia made it 7-of-9 after halftime.
Three came on the decisive drive as quarterback Michael Rocco scrambled to his left and found tight end Jared McGee before Penn State's safeties did for a 44-yard gain.
On third-and-goal from the 6, Rocco connected with McGee again for the tying touchdown.
The winning score -- the extra point -- was good.
PSU -- Kyle Carter 8-yard pass from Matt McGloin (Sam Ficken kick), 8:33. Drive: 17 plays, 75 yards, 6:27. Comment: It's far from pretty, but the Lions offense atones for last week's dud of a second half by scoring a touchdown after what felt like an eternity for the opening drive. It includes a pair of fourth-down conversions, including one in Penn State territory. On third-and goal, McGloin has plenty of time to wait for his tight end to come across the formation and sit down in the middle of the Virginia zone for his first career touchdown. PENN STATE 7, VIRGINIA 0.
UVA -- Drew Jarrett 46-yard field goal, 3:56. Drive: 10 plays, 50 yards, 4:20. Comment: Virginia's defense keeps the Cavaliers in it early as the offense does everything in its power to hand Penn State points. After defensive tackle Jordan Hill gets an interception, the Cavaliers turn Penn State away a second time as Ficken misses a 38-yard field goal. The offense finally grinds into motion as quarterback Michael Rocco leads the team into PSU territory. Adrian Amos snuffed out a screen pass for a loss, forcing Jarrett to make a career long kick. PSU 7, UVA 3.
UVA -- Jeremiah Mathis 1-yard pass from Michael Rocco (Jarrett kick), 9:22. Drive: 11 plays, 77 yards, 5:38. Comment: Virginia gets the ball first after halftime and the Cavaliers proceed to put together their best drive of the game. Rocco has success looking for his tight ends down the seam, with Jake McGee making a big grab in the middle of the field. It goes as smoothly as anything the Cavaliers draw up all day, including the score -- a second-and-goal play-action call that freed up the jumbo package tight end for an easy six points. UVA 10, PSU 7.
PSU -- Allen Robinson 30-yard pass from McGloin (kick blocked), 13:10. Drive: 5 plays, 45 yards, 1:33. In their first six trips inside the Virginia 35-yard line, the Lions managed just seven points. The defense had forced three turnovers in Virginia territory, leading to zero points. Finally, the Lions are able to convert after a poor punt gave them the ball at the Hoos' 45. A double move allows Robinson to streak wide open. He lays out for the pass, hauls it in and keeps both hands underneath it. Landing on the ball knocked the wind out of him, but he held on for the score, his first career touchdown. But, of course, the kicking woes continue as Ficken's extra point is blocked. PSU 13, UVA 10.
PSU -- Ficken 32-yard field goal, 10:55. Drive: 4 plays, 3 yards, 1:23. Comment: Just bizarre. For the fourth time in the game, the Lions come up with a turnover in Virginia territory. With the Cavs subbing in Phillip Sims at quarterback, Deion Barnes comes around the right tackle and slaps the ball free, with Michael Mauti scooping it up at the 18-yard line. Same old story for the offense, which can't capitalize. Bill O'Brien initially lines up to go for it on fourth down before calling a timeout and changing his mind. Ficken's kick is more of a line drive this time, but it goes through the uprights for the first time. PSU 16, UVA 10.
UVA -- Jake McGee 6-yard pass from Rocco (Jarrett kick), 1:28. Drive: 12 plays, 86 yards, 6:36. Comment: Just when it appears the Lions are going to pull out an ugly win, things fall apart. Fired up and pinning Virginia to a third-and-16. Rocco scrambles left and the Lions safeties lose track of McGee, who comes open for a gain of 44. That's the spark the Hoos needed, as they convert two more huge third downs. The last one is third-and-goal and McGee slips into an open space in the front of the end zone and secures the bullet pass for the winning score. McGloin leads Penn State into position for the win in the final 90 seconds, but Ficken's fourth missed field goal of the day sails wide left. UVA 17, PSU 16.
|Time of Possession||31:47||28:13|
RUSHING—Penn St., Day 18-47, Dukes 10-30, Carson 1-19, Bench 3-18, Zordich 2-5, McGloin 4-3, Zwinak 3-2, Team 1-(minus 3). Virginia, Parks 9-26, P.Jones 8-14, Rocco 6-2, P.Sims 1-(minus 4), Team 1-(minus 6).
PASSING—Penn St., McGloin 19-35-0-197, Bench 2-7-0-12, Team 0-1-0-0. Virginia, Rocco 21-33-1-258, P.Sims 2-3-0-5.
RECEIVING—Penn St., Robinson 10-89, Carter 4-33, Kenney 3-50, Day 1-17, Kersey 1-9, Lehman 1-7, Zwinak 1-4. Virginia, Jennings 5-68, McGee 4-99, P.Jones 4-14, Terrell 2-23, Parks 2-20, Scott 2-14, Ti.Smith 1-12, Freedman 1-10, Swanson 1-2, Mathis 1-1.