CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — They gave him another chance, a final boot into Virginias student section on this tense Saturday below the Mason-Dixon Line.
A clean kick, and the three field goals and extra point Sam Ficken missed earlier in the game start becoming memories. Another miss, and Penn State begins a season 0-2 for just the 10th time in 126 years.
Wide left. Virginia 17, Penn State 16.
Bill OBriens second crack at earning his first coaching victory floated in every direction but the right ones at lively Scott Stadium.
Ficken, a sophomore elevated to Penn States top kicking spot when Anthony Fera transferred to Texas this summer, went 1-for-5 on field goals, becoming the first kicker to miss four against the Cavaliers since 1964.
The last miss hurt the most. Penn State responded to Michaeal Roccos 6-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee with 1:28 remaining by quickly moving to Virginias 25. Setting up from the middle of a grass field mowed at 9:30 a.m., Ficken missed a 42-yarder as time expired.
Ficken didnt speak with reporters after the game, leaving teammates to explain what happened. His other misses came from 40, 38 and 20 yards. He also had a third-quarter extra point blocked.
I told him keep his head up, linebacker Gerald Hodges said. It was his first time being in an atmosphere like this. A lot of pressure on the guy. We are going to get back in there each and everyone of us and fix our mistakes and do better next game.
The Nittany Lions did correct many of the flaws exposed during last weekends season-opening 24-14 loss to Ohio University.
A defense that was shredded in the second half by a Mid- American Conference opponent tightened against an Atlantic Coast Conference team that won eight games last season. The Cavaliers (2-0) rushed for just 32 yards on 25 carries.
Penn State forced four turnovers, with two coming in each half. The Nittany Lions outgained the Cavaliers 330-295.
It hurts, senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. They both hurt. I think this one hurts the most just because we left so many plays on the field.
Fickens lone make, a 32- yarder, knuckled through the uprights with 10:55 remaining to give Penn State a 16-10 lead.
Penn State had an ideal start to the fourth quarter. Trailing by three points, quarterback Matt McGloin, who suffered an elbow injury in the first half, tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to a diving Allen Robinson on the Nittany Lions fifth offensive play of the quarter.
Less than a minute later, defensive end Deion Barnes stripped the ball from Virginia quarterback Phillip Sims. Linebacker Michael Mauti recovered the fumble at the 17. The Nittany Lions parlayed the turnover into Fickens field goal.
It was the lone turnover that produced points as Penn States offense stalled inside the Virginia territory throughout the game. The Nittany Lions scored just 16 points despite ending 10 of their 12 drives inside Virginias 40.
We couldnt put the ball in the end zone, said wide receiver Alex Kenney, who caught three passes for 50 yards. Thats the bottom line.
The Cavaliers had similar problems until their final drive. Rocco, the son and grandson of former Penn State quarterback Frank Rocco Jr. and football administrator Frank Rocco Sr., guided a 12-play, 86-yard march that included four thirddown conversions.
On third-and-16 after a false start penalty, Rocco completed a 44-yard pass to a leaping McGee. Darius Jennings then turned a swing pass on third-and- 7 into a 22-yard gain. The Cavaliers touchdown also came on third down.
Were struggling on thirddown situations, middle linebacker Glenn Carson said. Its just something we need to improve in practice.
Forget third-down conversions. Penn State converted two fourth-down plays on an impressive 17-play opening drive that ended with McGloins 8-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Carter.
McGloin, though, didnt finish the first half. He was escorted to the locker room after taking hits to his throwing elbow on back-to-back drives in the second quarter. True freshman Steven Bench replaced McGloin.
Bench took the first two snaps of the second half before McGloin, who wore tape around the arm, returned. McGloin said X-rays on his elbow were negative.
Penn State returns to Beaver Stadium to face Navy next weekend. The next six days will force OBrien to examine his kicking situation, a preseason concern that expanded with the misses on Saturday.
Its not all about the kicker, OBrien said. I could have called plays better. We could have executed better. Its a team sport and we have to figure out other ways to improve.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter@cdtguy.