Correction appended: Sept. 10, 2012.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Penn State moved the ball inside Virginia’s 30-yard line eight times. They came away with points three times.
The Nittany Lions’ 17-16 loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday was marked by their failure to convert scoring opportunities. They consistently stalled in field goal range on a day their kicker simply couldn’t make field goals.
Sam Ficken missed four of five attempts in front of a loud Virginia crowd. None of his kicks were taken beyond the 32-yard line.
After the game, coach Bill O’Brien and the players were quick to take the blame off Ficken.
“It's not all about the kicker,” O’Brien said. “We had some plays in the [red zone] we could have called better. We could have executed better. It's never always on the kicker. It’s a team sport and we have to figure out other ways to improve.”
Penn State’s offensive line could not contain Virginia’s front four in the second quarter, and quarterback Matt McGloin was frequently under duress. His frustration showed on one play when he tried to call a timeout Penn State didn’t have. He spiked the ball into the grass in frustration after he was flagged for a delay of game penalty.
“Matt definitely got pressured more than last weekend,” said guard John Urschel. “That's on us as an offensive line. We're going to go back, look at the film, and try to improve on those things.”
When McGloin injured his throwing elbow after a knockdown, true freshman Steven Bench entered the game for his first collegiate snap.
Bench played just over four minutes in the second quarter and two plays in the third as McGloin’s elbow was treated. The redshirt senior did return to the game to play the second half.
Urschel called McGloin a “warrior,” as he finished the afternoon completing 54 percent of his passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
“Matt McGloin is a leader,” wide receiver Alex Kenney said. “He's a senior with great heart. We expected him to come back and he did a great job.”
Penn State’s front seven kept the Lions in the game. Linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges both forced fumbles recovered by Penn State and defensive tackle Jordan Hill nabbed his first career interception.
O’Brien said that the defense has been focusing especially hard on breaking up passes and forcing turnovers this week in practice. Last week against Ohio, the Lions were not able to wreak much havoc.
“We made a lot of progress,” said linebacker Glenn Carson. “This game we found a lot of turnovers. That's definitely an improvement. I'm very proud of how our defense responded to big plays.”
The pass rush on Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco took some pressure off Penn State’s defensive backs, but Rocco was still able to exploit them at times. In Virginia’s last drive of the second half, he found multiple gaps in the secondary that led to an 86-yard touchdown drive and a one-point lead.
With 1:28 left on the clock, the Cavaliers left a hurting McGloin with 72 yards and one timeout to work with. McGloin completed the first three passes in a row, had an incompletion on his fourth attempt and went 6-for-9 on the drive.
On third down, he centered the football between the hash marks on Virginia’s 25-yard line, and called Penn State’s final timeout. If Ficken had split the uprights from 42 yards out, all would have been forgiven.
“It's a one-point loss on a last-second field goal, so it's not a great mood,” O’Brien said.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated information about Matt McGloin's completions. McGloin completed the first three passes in a row, had an incompletion on his fourth attempt and went 6-for-9 on the drive. The Daily Collegian apologizes for this error. The above article reflects the correct information.