Penn State Falls Late to Virginia, 17-16

Story posted September 9, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Jared Abbott

The Penn State Nittany Lions fell in heartbreaking fashion to the Virginia Cavaliers in a 17-16 loss that deprived first-year head coach Bill O’Brien of his first victory.

After suffering a loss in the home opener to the Ohio Bobcats, the Nittany Lions arrived in Charlottesville looking for redemption. Instead, Penn State squandered an easy opportunity to earn its first win of the year.

So far, the story of Penn State’s season has revolved around missed opportunities and the lack of a killer instinct. Coach O’Brien has preached the same cliché message throughout the start of the season, stressing better performance by the entire team.

“I could have called better plays, we could have executed better,” said O’Brien. “It's a team sport and we have to figure out other ways to improve."

The play calling and execution seemed to be clicking on the first drive of the game. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin led the Nittany Lion offense down the field, going 75 yards on 17 plays. On third-and-goal, McGloin found redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Carter for an eight-yard touchdown reception.

Carrying the momentum from the opening drive onto defense was linebacker and team leader Michael Mauti. On Virginia’s first offensive play, the senior linebacker forced a fumble, which was recovered by junior safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

Following the early season trend, Penn State’s offense couldn’t capitalize on a golden opportunity. Despite taking over in Virginia territory, McGloin failed to move the offense and took a sack on third down, forcing sophomore kicker Sam Ficken to take a 40-yard field goal attempt. Ficken’s miss would become a common trend throughout the game, and ultimately the downfall of the Nittany Lions.

In true Penn State fashion, its hard-nosed defense was relied upon to make game-changing plays. Senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill made an incredible one-handed interception deep in Virginia territory, shifting the momentum back to Penn State’s side.

The momentum was quickly halted when McGloin was struck twice on his throwing elbow by Virginia helmets in consecutive series. McGloin left the game to get his elbow looked at in the locker room. After Virginia got on the board with a field goal, true freshman Steven Bench got his first taste as the starting quarterback for the Nittany Lions.

Just like the week previous, the Nittany Lions came out of halftime with the lead, but wouldn’t hold on to it for long. Virginia orchestrated a long drive to open the second half. Cavaliers quarterback Michael Rocco completed four of his five passes on the drive with a touchdown pass, giving Virginia their first lead of the game.

Gutting it out with an injured elbow, McGloin came back into the game on a third down and completed a long pass to sophomore wide receiver Alex Kenney. The duo connected again down to the Virginia 5-yard line. Penn State looked poised to retake the lead, or at least tie the game with a field goal, despite a shaky kicking game already. Ficken, who had already missed from 40 and 38, did the unthinkable and missed a 20-yard chip shot from the right hash.

Senior linebacker Gerald Hodges was the beneficiary of a bobbled snap by Rocco and gave Penn State another chance to regain the lead. After wide receiver Allen Robinson dropped consecutive balls, he redeemed himself, stretching out and hauling in a slightly overthrown deep ball by McGloin for a 30-yard touchdown.

Even the most automatic plays can be botched, and today was not Sam Ficken’s day. His extra point attempt was low and blocked, leaving the Nittany Lions up only three points. However, just as was the case, all game the defense bailed the offense out when they needed it most. Defensive end Deion Barnes, who was flying around the ball all game, forced a fumble that was recovered by Mauti on the Virginia 17.

After missing his first three field goals and one extra point, Ficken finally connected on a 32-yard field goal, putting Penn State up 16-10. But the missed extra point lingered as Virginia got the ball back. When Rocco lead the Cavaliers down the field and threw a touchdown pass with 1:28 remaining, the extra point was the margin.

McGloin led a solid march down the field with little time on his hands and got into field goal range, even managing to center the ball before the clock expired. But Ficken's nightmare continued, and he missed his fourth field goal of the day as time expired, sending Penn State to its first 0-2 start since 2001.

The Nittany Lions look for their first win Saturday, September 15th at 3:30 p.m. at home against the Navy Midshipmen. That game will be broadcasted live on ComRadio, beginning with the Pregame Show at 2:30 p.m. Tune in at psucomradio.com.

Jared Abbott is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and psychology. To contact him, email: jda5104@psu.edu.