Penn St. coach backs embattled kicker

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 11, 2012
Kicking woes underscore a larger problem for Penn State. Coach Bill O'Brien's offense will need to improve in the red zone if the Nittany Lions plan on making any splash in the Big Ten. It's getting tough enough after an 0-2 start in nonconference play. After forcing four turnovers inside Virginia territory in a 17-16 loss last week to the Cavaliers, resilient Penn State came away with just three points off those chances. ''Offensively, we've got to do a better job in the red zone. We can't take four turnovers from our defense and come away with only three points,'' O'Brien said. ''That's ridiculous, and we all know that, and it starts with coaching and we've just got to do a better job there.'' Better make it quick if Penn State wants to avoid opening a season with three straight losses for the first time since beginning the 2001 campaign 0-4. Navy (0-1) and its triple-option attack visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Sam Ficken figures to still be attempting the field goals then. The kicker was the obvious player to blame by fickle fans on social media following his dismal day against Virginia. The sophomore's nightmarish afternoon included a blocked extra-point attempt and four missed four field goals, including the potential game-winner from 42 yards in a heavy drizzle. Ficken's only make Saturday was from 32. There was no time to sulk Monday. O'Brien said Ficken was back to work trying to get better. One suggestion for the right-footed Ficken was to concentrate on orienting his left foot so it's pointed and planted in the direction of where he wants to kick the ball. O'Brien is sticking by Ficken, the only kicker listed on the depth chart. But when asked later, O'Brien also said the kicking job has been open competition each week this season won by Ficken. He took over this season only when standout kicker Anthony Fera transferred to Texas after the NCAA's landmark sanctions on Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. But Fera has been sidelined with the Longhorns so far this season with a groin injury - so Ficken, who had followed Fera on the depth chart - may have been kicking last week against Virginia regardless. ''Look, we should have scored touchdowns. It's a team sport,'' O'Brien said. ''We talk to our team about that every day, every week, every minute, about playing as a team. So, Sam's a big part of our team, and I'm glad we have him. And he's going to try to get better, and we're all going to try to get better.'' Ficken's bad day became the subject of rebukes so scornful from a few fans on Twitter that some teammates and other Penn State athletes past and present came to Ficken's defense. ''Well, obviously I think it's absolutely ridiculous. Not just because it's a 19-year-old college kid,'' O'Brien said about the criticism of Ficken. ''At the end of the day, you know, these guys are really playing hard, giving great effort for us. To go on whatever, `space book' or `tweeter' or whatever is put ... on there is just absolutely ridiculous to me and very cowardly, to be honest with you. But that's just my opinion.'' O'Brien said the field-goal unit also needs to get better protection, snaps and holds on kicks. O'Brien does like the way Penn State showed flashes of improvement in the new offense, including the 17-play, 75-yard drive that ate up 6:27 of the clock in the first quarter, culminating in Matt McGloin's 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Carter. The big-play defense stuffed Virginia for 32 rushing yards on 25 carries and had three sacks including two by freshman end Deion Barnes. It's just that more success in the red zone would have negated the need to rely so heavily on Ficken in the first place. ''We've just got to focus a little bit more in the game,'' receiver Allen Robinson said. ''Sometimes, you have to catch a few more balls, make a few better blocks. It's something that will come along.'' In five trips inside the 20 against Virginia, Penn State came away with just one touchdown and a field goal. ''As an offense, we've definitely been able to move the ball,'' Robinson said. ''We definitely have to finish drives ... We can't start off with a good drive and not score again until late in the fourth quarter.'' Injury concerns are also piling up on offense. McGloin didn't throw Monday at practice to rest his sore right elbow, but O'Brien said the senior should be ready for Navy. The same can't be said for running backs Bill Belton (left ankle) and Derek Day (left shoulder), so Penn State may have its third starting tailback of the season in 6-foot-1 Curtis Dukes, a bruising, 245-pound junior. Starting left tackle Donovan Smith (foot) and defensive end Pete Massaro (right shoulder) are also considered day-to-day.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Seahawks players feel Sherman bombshell story ‘nailed it’

Turkey: Kanter a member of terrorist group, issues warrant

Chad Johnson says Roger Goodell consulted him on touchdown celebration rule change

Kevin Durant is not to blame for the NBA’s lack of parity, and he knows it

Khloe Kardashian called out Cavs fan who mentioned ‘curse’

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Warriors’ Mike Brown: Steve Kerr may be back for the Finals

Dodgers transfer Andrew Toles and Scott Kazmir to the 60-day disabled list

Looking back at 40 years of women racing in the Indianapolis 500

U.S. national soccer teams to wear LGBT-themed jerseys to celebrate pride month

Mike Zimmer: Teddy Bridgewater still has ‘long ways to go’

Report: Clippers concerned about Chris Paul leaving to sign with Spurs

Best of Yardbarker: Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines

The 'More like Whiffer, Texas Ranger...amirite?' quiz

The Rewind: Vince Carter's graduation day celebration that wasn't

Manu Ginobili gave life to the San Antonio Spurs

Stanley Cup Final: A David vs. Goliath matchup that's not as lopsided as it may appear

Why the Indianapolis 500 is called 'the greatest spectacle in racing'

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Box Score 5/26: Bring on the Finals

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

Kicking It: East is East, and West is West

Three Up, Three Down: Some surprises way out (NL) West

The 'Let's go to the videotape!' quiz

College Football News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Best of Yardbarker: Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines

The 'More like Whiffer, Texas Ranger...amirite?' quiz

Stanley Cup Final: A David vs. Goliath matchup that's not as lopsided as it may appear

Manu Ginobili gave life to the San Antonio Spurs

The Rewind: Vince Carter's graduation day celebration that wasn't

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Kicking It: East is East, and West is West

Three Up, Three Down: Some surprises way out (NL) West

The 'Let's go to the videotape!' quiz

Why the Indianapolis 500 is called 'the greatest spectacle in racing'

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker