The Virginia Cavaliers had no business beating the Penn State Nittany Lions 17-16 on Saturday, but that’s exactly what they did. Sam Ficken missed a game winning field goal as time expired to give the Cavaliers an improbable victory. Although Ficken deserves plenty of the blame for reasons that will be touched on momentarily, there were certainly other areas that cost Penn State a victory.
Wasting good field position
The Nittany Lion offense wasted a tremendous effort by their defense in this one. Not only did Penn State force four turnovers, but they all came inside Virginia territory. Although the offense didn’t turn the ball over themselves, they could only manage a measly three points off the turnovers. It’s rare that a team wins the turnover battle 4-0 and still loses the game.
Missed field goals
Ok, so Ficken missing a game winning field goal from 42 yards isn’t all that shocking, but the rest of his performance on Saturday was. He missed four field goals in total, including one from 20 yards. He also had an extra point that was blocked, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to look at the final score and realize how big that was. Missed field goals are going to happen, but if you want to win at the Division-1 level you can’t be missing them form 20 yards out.
Poor clock management
Both teams were spending timeouts in this one like it was an NBA game. At the end of the first half
this carelessness came back to haunt Penn State. They were forced to use their three timeouts early on and they were driving late in the half. As they entered field goal range, and I use that term loosely based on Ficken’s shakiness, they threw a four yard out with just over ten seconds to play. Virginia made the tackle in bounds as the clock continued to tick, and Penn State did not have time to run their field goal unit onto the field. Another opportunity for three points was wasted.
As Penn State was looking to kick a game winning field goal, quarterback Matt McGloin looked to center the ball for Ficken. The problem was he went backwards on his own and ended up losing three yards. Had he just moved laterally the winning attempt probably would have been about 39
yards instead of 42. If Ficken’s early misses were any indication, he really needed every yard he could get. Now the kick was missed badly and it’s unclear if that yardage factored in, but it’s those kinds of mistakes that cost you games.