UNIVERSITY PARK — Colin Reardon and David Fisher spent most of Saturday afternoon running for their lives.
It was quite a different scene than last week when Central Florida’s Blake Bortles got comfortable in the pocket and carved up Penn State’s defense.
This week, Penn State’s defensive line knew it had improve and did so. Deion Barnes notched his first sack of the season while Kyle Baublitz, Ryan Keiser and Jordan Lucas also factored in to bring Reardon to the ground.
Barnes was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year last season for a six-sack breakout campaign and officially shared his first sack of 2013 with Lucas. Barnes said he was relieved to finally have the first one out of the way.
“It felt great,” Barnes said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Barnes teamed with Baublitz, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, C.J. Olaniyan and Anthony Zettel to form Penn State’s main defensive line rotation and hurried Kent State’s quarterbacks often. Reardon completed only 12 of 28 of his throws and had to get rid of the ball early on most of his 28 attempts. Keiser picked off Reardon once while Lucas and Nyeem Wartman also nearly snagged interceptions on hurried throws.
“John (Butler) did a great job putting together a good game plan for this team,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “It looked to me that it was a struggle to move the ball offensively for Kent State. I thought our defense did a whale of a job.”
Ficken keeps kickin’
Sam Ficken’s remarkable renaissance continued against Kent State.
The junior from Valparaiso has now connected on 7 of 8 field goals. His only miss was a 57-yarder against Eastern Michigan that landed just short of the crossbar. He made up for that miss by nailing a 54-yarder with 2:45 left in the fourth quarter. It was the longest field goal ever converted by a Nittany Lion in a home game and longest overall since 1979.
“The snap was good, the hold was good, and I followed through and made it there. It’s more of a middle kick, so I aim right middle, got back and took my steps, and hit it well and pretty clean,” Ficken said. “I didn’t hit it perfectly, but that’s OK. I saw the ball go up and it was between the uprights, but then (Alex) Butterworth grabbed me and turned me around, so I had no idea if it went in or not. I assumed from his reaction it went in. That’s always a good feeling.”
Since the 2012 Ohio State game (nine games ago), Sam Ficken is 17-for-18 on field goal attempts.
All-American Chris Bahr owns the Penn State record with three 55-yard field goals in 1975, all on the road.
The Beaver Stadium field goal record is 57 yards by Ohio‘s Gary Homer in 1973.
Ficken said his approach on long field goal attempts requires special technique, but the same mindset as shorter kicks.
“On those really long ones, I tend to chop my left foot a little bit more because it adds a little bit more leverage and speed to your approach. It helps you hit the ball a little bit harder,” Ficken said. “I feel real confident with two steps up to 53 or 54, and if I don’t hit it real well with two steps, it’s bordering that range, so I did two and a half steps,” he said.
Playing in the rain
Saturday’s game was played, in its entirety, in varying degrees of rain. For the fans, the rain was at best a nuisance and at worst a nightmare. For some Nittany Lions, the rain was welcomed.
“That was a fun game, man. It reminds you of when you were younger and playing in the backyard when it was raining,” said Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. “I’ve been here for awhile, so I’ve experienced rain, snow and a little bit of everything. State College is unpredictable.“
For cornerback Trevor Williams, the impact of rain depends on what side of the ball you play on.
“When I played on offense, I kind of hated it,” Williams said. “On defense, you don‘t really think about it. All we worried about was trying to knock the ball down. That was key today, ball security. Everyone just flew around to the ball and made plays.”
Hull’s health still a hindrance
Linebacker Mike Hull sustained a right leg injury against Syracuse that eventually knocked him out of that game. He‘s played sparingly since.
Saturday, in a game the Nittany Lions didn’t figure to need him, Hull was in a raincoat on the sideline.
With the bye week coming up, and Big Ten play starting in two weeks at Indiana, Penn State coaches believe he’ll be able to play against an improved Hoosiers team.
“Obviously, Mike Hull, that’s a big injury for us because he’s a good football player,” O’Brien said. “He’ll be back and the bye week helps him get healed up.”
O’Brien gets comical
After an emotional final-game win over Wisconsin last season, O’Brien made headlines when he told a reporter in a post-game TV interview that he had a bunch of, uh, fighters, but it sounded like a certain four-letter curse word.
O’Brien had a humorous exchange Saturday with a reporter about that very word.
“Bill, for a minute there, it sounded like you were going to say you had a bunch of fighters,” the reporter said.
“You know, what,” O’Brien said, “I do. We do have a bunch of fighters and fantastic kids.”
The assembled media laughed along with O’Brien.
“If anyone debates me on that, it’s my Mom” O’Brien said. “She still doesn’t believe I said fighters.”
That broke up the room again.
“Do I look like a guy who swears?” O’Brien asked with a wry smile.
Rest, and then the real work begins
Penn State, at 3-1, enters a bye week. O’Brien said it comes at a good time.
The Nittany Lions figure to be able to shore up some weaknesses and get some players healthy. It will need to do all of the above.
Penn State starts Big Ten play at Indiana on Oct. 5. The week after, the Nittany Lions will entertain Michigan in a 5 p.m. kick at Beaver Stadium.
Following another bye week, Penn State goes on the road to play an 8 p.m. game at Ohio State. Then, in successive weeks, the Nittany Lions play Illinois at home (Nov. 2), at Minnesota (Nov. 9), entertain Purdue (Nov. 16) and Nebraska (Nov. 23) and then travel to Wisconsin (Nov. 30).