After a close loss, teams will typically look at a couple plays that, if they'd just gone the other way, would've flipped the score in their favor. Penn State now has five missed opportunities staring them in the face, and they all came off the right foot of Sam Ficken.
For the first 45 minutes of this game, it seemed like the Nittany Lions were reading off the same script as last week. Just like in that opener against Ohio, Penn State dominated in the first half, but failed to take advantage of opportunities. Ficken missed a couple field goals, and even given short fields time and time again, Penn State failed to convert. What could have been 10- or 14- or even 21-3 was a mere 7-3 lead for the Lions as they headed into the locker room at halftime.
Then, just as Frank Solich and staff did a week ago, Mike London made the adjustments necessary to take control of the game. A quick, way-too-easy touchdown drive for the 'Hoos opened the second half, and Penn State's offense failed to finish off drives.
As the fourth quarter rolled around, though, a new script was written: the offense came back, as Allen Robinson made a sensational catch to reel in a 30-yard touchdown (but the extra point was blocked). Sam Ficken even hit a field goal! The defense stopped UVa in its tracks, and forced turnovers! And the Lions led 16-10. But the Ted Roof defense couldn't hold it, and with under a minute and a half to play, UVA took a 17-16 lead.
But this is winning time, and there's no winner like Matt McGloin. The offense ran the two-minute drill with aplomb, getting the ball down to the 25-yard line, giving Sam Ficken one last chance to redeem himself...
And he failed. Miserably. Fantastic.
Granted, Ficken will take all the heat for this one, but it's worth noting that Penn State forced four turnovers inside the UVA 30-yard line and came away with only 3 points. The missed field goals didn't help, but the offense could've really helped out by pounding out a touchdown.
On to the grades:
Quarterbacks: B+. Matt McGloin played through a banged-up elbow, mostly out of necessity, but he was more than servicable, especially on the final drive. His final line, 19-35 for 197 yards, is marred by drops. This was the kind of performance Penn State ought to be able to expect from McGloin moving forward. And Steven Bench wasn't awful!
Running Backs: B-. With no Bill Belton, one might've expected Penn State to emphasize the passing game. Instead, they ran the ball more than they passed it. Neither Derek Day, nor Curtis Dukes, who took the load after Day got banged up, had great days, but they allowed the Bill O'Brien offense to avoid being too one-dimensional.
Receivers: C+. A few drops here and there won't kill you, but there were about a half dozen from this unit, and Allen Robinson was the worst offender. Robinson's touchdown catch was fantastic, but there were few big plays coming out of this group.
Offensive Line: B+. The line allowed a pair of sacks, but generally gave McGloin as much time in the pocket as he needed. The only thing holding it back was a struggle to win the initial battles up front in the running game, resulting in a whole lot of stuffs.
Defensive Line: A. Michael Rocco was under pressure most of the day, the UVA run game was often stopped before it had a chance to get going, and Jordan Hill even added an interception. What more could you ask from this group? A coming out party for Deion Barnes? Okay, that too.
Linebackers: A. Michael Mauti came to play today, and so did Gerald Hodges. Glenn Carson and Mike Hull both contributed with huge plays. After being neutralized last week by the spread attack of Ohio, we finally saw how good this group can be, forcing fumbles and making plays left and right.
Defensive Backs: D. Any time Michael Rocco had time in the pocket, there was, without fail, a receiver open down the field. The Cavaliers converted on 3rd and 20 and 3rd and 16, and picked apart the PSU D on their final, game-winning drive. And it's not the players' fault, but it's hard to stop even short passes when you're giving a 10-yard cushion.
Special Teams: F. Sam Ficken, my heart goes out to you, but it's hard to mince words about that performance. That was hideously awful. Alex Butterworth wasn't much better, shanking two of his three punts, and the return game was non-existent. But for now, those both take a back seat to Sam Ficken's performance. You can't often say that one player singlehandedly lost a game for his team , but Sam Ficken did.
Coaching: B+. Ted Roof's defense failed miserably at making plays when it mattered, but for most of the game, Penn State absolutely dominated. You can't blame the coaches for Ficken's missed field goals--in fact, sending Ficken out there after he'd already missed 3 took brass balls from O'Brien, and when he hit that one, the decision was vindicated. And the offense converted three of four 4th down tries, including a gutsy-as-hell fake punt, and even tried a flea-flicker. Not too shabby.