There is no way you could have predicted that Penn State would lose Saturday’s game against Virginia, not the way the defense played for most of the game. The defense forced four turnovers and held the Cavaliers to 32 yards net rushing. In addition, Virginia had ten penalties for a net loss of 70 yards. Penn State had only three for a net loss of 24 yards.
But despite those stats, Penn State was vulnerable. Our kicker missed four field goals, the longest a 42-yarder, and suffered a blocked extra point. The missed points on the kicking game cost Penn State 13 valuable points. Plus, the defense, despite forcing turnovers, gave up first downs at crucial moments on third and long, on the last winning drive for Virginia.
And so we lost 17-16. But what was most difficult was the last second of the game. Despite all, we were in position to make a field goal – on the VA 26 yard line – and our kicker didn’t make it.
Had he made it, Sam Ficken would have been a hero. Quarterback Matt McGloin had given him the best position possible on the next to last play, a straight shot from the 26-yard line in the middle of the field. But it didn’t happen.
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Still, this loss was a team effort. Because when the best rush for Penn State, a 19 yarder, is achieved by Glenn Carson, a defensive player, on a 4th and 4 fake punt, you know you’re in trouble. I love Glenn, don’t get me wrong, but he is a linebacker, not a tailback. Although maybe Coach O’Brien should consider his speed and convert him!
Because when the defense creates four turnovers – count them four - three of which are within the red zone – and the offense has to rely on the kicker all four times because they can’t move the ball, and the kicker only makes one of those, well, we have more offensive problems than the kicking game. We have problems especially with the running game, and in our ability to capitalize on the turnovers that gave Penn State such great field position.
This was probably the worst loss we have witnessed in a while. It just plain hurt.
Virginia played valiantly but frankly this team wasn’t a great opponent. Penn State beat the Cavaliers everywhere but on the scoreboard. Virginia should have defeated itself, but fortunately for Virginia, the NCAA was on their side. I credit this game to NCAA -1, Penn State – 0. Last week’s loss to Ohio, though, I credit to a better team, Ohio.
I don’t mean to insult Virginia fans. But even this morning, over breakfast at our hotel in Charlottesville, a couple wearing the Virginia orange and blue were marveling at their win. “But for the grace of God we won” and “Of course, they deserved to lose”. Unfortunately I interpreted their comments incorrectly.
I thought that they were implying that Penn State deserved to lose because of Sandusky and God’s wrath against his crimes.
So I was offended by that comment, I interrupted their serene breakfast, and told them in a very loud voice I was insulted as a Penn State fan by that comment. Wow. How stupid of me. They were talking about Virginia deserving to lose.
After that ensued a whole conversation. They were diehard fans and so were we. They were so sorry about Penn State’s situation, and they felt that it was awful that Penn State was sanctioned the way they were. I felt so badly for being angry with them that I must have apologized at least three times for my angry outburst. They were very nice people who were as diehard about Virginia as we are about Penn State.
So I learned something about myself this morning: about how thin-skinned I am about Penn State this season. That an innocent comment overheard by some Virginia fans – not taunting, they didn’t even know who we were – could set me off to defend the team like that. Even my husband Terry was amazed and embarrassed by my outcry.
Yet that has been the nature of these NCAA sanctions and the Penn State situation for anyone who loves Penn State. It has been very, very difficult to absorb what has happened and much of our anger is just below the surface. It doesn’t take much to raise it to a volatile level.
Yeah. NCAA 1, Penn State, 0. Because when I look at what player personnel we lost due to the NCAA sanctions, all I can say is what a bum rotten deal for Penn State to lose a star running back in Silas Redd, who probably would have helped us against Ohio last week and most definitely against Virginia this week.
And Anthony Fera, who both kicked and punted for us and had a great leg, would have definitely won this game today for us. Fera wouldn’t have missed from the 42-yard line, or the 40-yard line, 38-yard line, or the 20-yard line. He would have made them all, probably, and all we needed to win that game was two lousy points. All we needed to tie was one point. On the other hand, due to Fera’s family situation, we might have lost him anyhow.
Can Ficken improve? I don’t know. I hope so. So far, though, it appears that he needs some serious coaching or some sort of mental improvement in how to kick field goals. I do remember a kicker struggling for a while and then succeeding wildly at the end of his career at Penn State. It can be very difficult when you're in a slump.
In any case, I can’t bring myself to blame either Redd or Fera for leaving. The NCAA opened that door very wide for transfers without penalty, but it hurts like heck not to see their talent helping Penn State win this year, while replacement talent struggles with learning what they have to do to succeed.
With Redd and Fera, it is very likely that we would be starting the season 2-0. Without them, we have this debacle of a season looming.
We came home today and I looked back at the records in the Penn State football yearbook. I looked at last year’s book, before the NCAA “doctored” our wins. I had remembered a season where we lost the first two games and then went on to win the rest of the games. It was 1990. We lost to Texas at home and then to USC on the road. We went on to win the next 9 games, and then lost 24-17 to Florida State in the first ever Blockbuster Bowl. It IS possible to turn around a bad start.
We wound up being ranked 11th in the AP poll and 10th in the UPI poll. We were still independents then. But our entry into the Big Ten had been announced. That bowl game, an inaugural one for the Blockbuster, played on December 28 1990, was my first bowl game ever. It was such a disappointment.
The following year, 1991, Penn State won eleven games and lost two. Terry and I saw every one of those games. We played Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 1992, and it was a huge turnaround win starting at the end of the third quarter. We won 42-17 after being down by three scores. That was special, and to this day, one of my favorite bowl games.
There were two other times in recent history that Penn State lost its first two games: in 2000 with losses to Southern Cal and Toledo (we wound up 5-7 that season); and 2001 with losses to Miami and Wisconsin. In fact, in 2001, we actually lost four games in a row before we began to win a few. We wound up having a 5-6 season.
So what I realize today as I write this is how unusual it has been for Penn State to lose two in a row, but also that inevitably, Penn State has improved over a season.
What we saw at the game this past weekend were improvements, significant improvements, both in the offense and defense. And we saw some glaring problems. We were happy with McGloin’s leadership. We saw great plays on defense. But our coaches have some work to do to improve talent in key positions. The entire team has to coalesce quite a bit more.
We need to be patient as this season evolves. We will win some, we can’t predict when. Maybe next week? That would be great.
Go Penn State! Beat Navy!
Note: If you are reading this post in the Centre Daily Times or the Bleacher Report, you can see photos from the trip to Charlottesville on my regular blog, www.viewfromstands.blogspot.com