CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—Sam Ficken had one last chance to make up for his dismal afternoon.
That opportunity went wide left, and Ficken’s day went from bad to worse.
Penn State’s kicker had a forgettable game in the team’s one-point loss to Virginia on Saturday. He missed out on a potential 13 points as he went 1-for-5 on field goal attempts and also had an extra point attempt blocked.
The final of Ficken’s four misses was a potential game-winner from 42 yards away. The snap on the play wasn’t perfect, but once the kick left Ficken’s foot, it never had a chance, and Virginia’s sideline erupted in victory as time expired.
Ficken may seem like the obvious scapegoat for the loss, and many on Twitter wasted no time in labeling him as such in the game’s immediate aftermath. However, those inside the Penn State locker room said they are not putting the blame on the kicker.
“This loss is on us as a team. I really hope all the fans in the outside world understand that,” senior guard John Urschel said. “We win as a team. We lose as a team.”
After the game, coach Bill O’Brien said his message to Ficken was simple.
“The sun will come up tomorrow,” O’Brien said of what he told his kicker.
Ficken missed two field goals in the first half, one from 40 yards and another from 38 yards out. His shortest miss of the day came in the third quarter when the Valparasio, Ind., native shanked a 20-yard attempt that would have tied the contest at 10.
The next kick Ficken failed to convert after that was even closer — it was an extra point.
Fans in the student section at Scott Stadium started a “Nine-ty Se-ven” chant as Ficken (No. 97) trotted on the field after Allen Robinson made a diving grab in the endzone to put Penn State ahead. Probably to the disbelief of much of the Penn State faithful, Ficken had his point-after try blocked, and the team’s lead stayed at 13-10.
That one point would come back to haunt the Nittany Lions in the loss.
Ficken made his next attempt from 32 yards away to double Penn State’s advantage with a little more than 10 minutes remaining, but it was the only field goal he sent through the uprights all day.
Urschel said he talked to the kicker in the locker room after the game. And while the lineman noted Ficken was “hurting,” Urschel said he tried to convey the defeat wasn’t on the sophomore.
Ficken was not available for comment.
“After the game, I made sure I went up to him right after O’Brien broke, just to tell him this wasn’t his fault,” Urschel said. “…One player doesn’t make or break the game, and one play doesn’t make or break a game. We’re all responsible as a team.”
O’Brien noted he thought the snap on the final field goal attempt from long snapper Emery Etter to Ryan Keiser — with rain falling — may have been poorly executed.
“Without seeing the tape, I think [the snap] was a little low and a tough grab for Keiser, again we got to work on that, the whole operation,” O’Brien said. “It’s never always about the kicker. The kicker is always the one who gets blamed, but it’s the whole operation.”
Ficken did not attempt a field goal last week against Ohio and was just 1-of-2 in his collegiate career entering Saturday, with the make coming from 43 yards. It also did not look like Ficken would be doing much kicking this year before former Penn State kicker/punter Anthony Fera transferred to Texas in the wake of NCAA sanctions.
Quarterback Matt McGloin said the missed chances in the kicking game were not what lost Penn State the game and said there were plays everyone failed to make. McGloin added he thinks Ficken is capable of making big kicks.
“He does it in practice each and every day. He’s very consistent,” McGloin said. “And that’s what you got to do. You got to remind him how good of a player he is.”
O’Brien didn’t shed any light as to if he planned on making any changes at the kicker position after the game.
“We’ll just have to go back [Sunday] and talk about that as a staff,” O’Brien said. “Sam’s our kicker, and we’ll see things we can do to help Sam get better.