Penn State Football: Ficken's Poor Kicking Helps Sink Nittany Lions at Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – No one wanted to kick Sam Ficken while he was down.
First-year coach Bill O’Brien and a handful of his players offered support for the skinny sophomore kicker following his 1-for-5 field goal nightmare and missed extra point in the Nittany Lions’ 17-16 loss to Virginia on Saturday.
“Sam Ficken did not lose the game for us,” quarterback Matt McGloin said.
Granted, Penn State forced four turnovers in Virginia territory and came away with just three points. And the defense allowed a 12-play, 86-yard winning drive, capped by Michael Rocco’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee with 1:28 to play in Scott Stadium.
But Ficken, a 6-foot-2, 172-pound scholarship kicker from Valparaiso, Ind., should shoulder at least a part of the blame.
If he makes the extra point, which was partially blocked, Penn State forces overtime. If he makes any of the four field goals he missed, the Nittany Lions would have won and O’Brien would be 1-1 and not 0-2 following his first road game.
Heck, even after Virginia had taken the lead late in the fourth quarter, Ficken had a chance to earn redemption after McGloin drove Penn State from its own 27 to the Cavaliers 22.
McGloin took a knee in the middle of the field with one second left, setting Ficken up for what would have been the first game-winning kick of his career.
Although the snap was slow to holder Ryan Keiser, Ficken pushed the ball wide left as the crowd erupted and Virginia players celebrated a victory in a game they really had no business winning.
“Percentages say you have a better chance making a kick from the middle of the field than you do from the hash,” O’Brien said. “Just center the ball, something we work on all the time. We did a really good job on that drive, so we need to finish that drive. We work on two-minute offense all the time.
“I am really proud of these kids and how hard they fought. I think if there were five or 10 seconds left, I would have tried to get it closer, but it is what it was.”
Let’s take a closer look at the Saturday misadventures of Ficken, who was not made available to reporters after the game:
- He missed a 40-yard field goal wide right in the first quarter following a Stephen Obeng-Agyapong fumble recovery and Penn State leading 7-0.
- He was wide right from 38 yards in the second quarter after Jordan Hill intercepted a pass.
- Ficken lined up to attempt a 42-yarder on the final play of the first half, but with no timeouts left, the clock expired before the ball could be snapped and the Nittany Lions carried a 7-3 lead into the locker room.
- With Virginia leading 10-7 in the third quarter, he missed a 20-yard field goal wide right.
- After Penn State had regained a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, Ficken’s extra point try was low and deflected at the line of scrimmage.
- He later was successful on his only field goal, a 32-yarder, to put Penn State up by six, 16-10, after a Michael Mauti fumble recovery.
“I let Sam know after the game that it was OK and it wasn’t on him,” guard John Urschel said. “Sam felt bad. He tried to take responsibility. But I told him not to worry.”
Still, Ficken’s awful start is eerily similar to the one former walk-on Evan Lewis experienced a year ago. Lewis, who was one of the punt returners Saturday, also started 1 of 5 on field goals before being replaced by All Big-Ten kicker Anthony Fera, who has since transferred to Texas.
Penn State has a few walk-on kickers on its roster, so in all likelihood, O’Brien will have to stick with Ficken, a former soccer player who was an all-state kicker in high school.
“We’ll have to go back as a staff and talk about it, but Sam is our kicker,” O’Brien said. “We need to see what things we can do to help Sam get better.
“Again, it’s not all on the kicker. We had some plays in the red (zone) area we could have called better. I could have called better plays. We could have executed better. So it’s never always on the kicker.
“It’s a team sport and we have to figure out other ways to improve.”
Ficken needs to make major improvement, too, if Penn State is to win any close games this year. He has hit just 2 of 7 field goal attempts in his young career, which is unacceptable for a major college kicker.