Penn State lost another winnable game Saturday. The Nittany Lions (0-2) completely outplayed Virginia and won the turnover battle, 4-0. But Penn State turned those turnovers, including two deep in Virginia territory, into just three points.
One reason Penn State managed just three points off those turnovers was Sam Ficken missed four of five field goal attempts. Ficken also had an extra point blocked, which turned out to be the difference in the game.
But Ficken, who is kicking because kicker/punter Anthony Fera transferred to Texas after the NCAA imposed heavy sanctions on Penn State, wasn’t helped by his head coach on his final field goal attempt. With 10 seconds and one timeout remaining, head coach Bill O’Brien elected to have quarterback Matt McGloin run back and to his right, setting up Ficken in the middle of the field for a potential game-winning field goal. However, the play lost 5 yards, forcing a struggling Ficken to attempt a 43-yarder as time expired.
Why not run the ball to the right side, moving the ball to the middle of the field without giving up any yardage? Who knows? You might even gain a couple yards. With a timeout remaining, another option was to throw a pass over the middle, possibly gaining 5-10 yards, making Ficken’s job easier on the final field goal.
O’Brien picked the worst of these options. To paraphrase Andy Reid, O’Brien did a poor job of putting Ficken in a position to succeed. This comes on the heels of using linebacker Gerald Hodges to return punts and kickoff in the season-opening 24-14 loss to Ohio. Hodges made poor decisions on kickoffs and his muffed punt led to Ohio’s only points of the first half. Hodges did not return kickoffs or punts against Virginia.
After both losses, O’Brien said he has to do a better job coaching. He’s absolutely correct. With better in-game coaching, Penn State could easily be 2-0.
To be fair, O’Brien called a well-timed fake punt on a first-half drive. But Penn State fans must hope that recounting O’Brien’s strategic errors doesn’t become a weekly feature in Fish ‘n Chips.
OWLS LICK THEIR WOUNDS: Saturday also wasn’t a good day for Temple, which dropped a 36-27 decision to Maryland. Turnovers, penalties and other mistakes cost the Owls dearly as they fell into a 26-3 first-half hole before mounting an inspired comeback.
The Owls (1-1) have next Saturday off, meaning they’ve got two weeks to lick their wounds and regroup before facing Penn State, a team they haven’t beaten since 1941.
PENN STATE AUTHOR-ITY: Speaking of Penn State, Joe Posnanski, author of “Paterno,” was at the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library on Thursday night. Posnanski was interviewed by Inquirer sports writer Joe Juliano and then answered questions from the audience.
Among the numerous interesting observations and opinions offered by Posnanski were:
- It took several years to convince Joe Paterno to let him write the book. And Posnanski says Paterno never wanted him to do the book, although members of his family did. Posnanski remembers Paterno eventually saying something like, “You can write it, but don’t expect me to help you.”
- Posnanski does not believe Paterno was involved in a cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys.
- When the trial of athletic director Tim Curley and former senior vice president Gary Schultz begins in January, Posnanski believes we will hear a very different interpretation of the crucial emails cited in the Freeh Report.
- Posnanski deemed the Freeh Report “incomplete” because, often for legitimate reasons, investigators were unable to speak with the central figures in this situation, including Jerry Sandusky, Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Mike McQueary. He dubbed the NCAA sanctions as “piling on.”
Once more, I encourage you to read “Paterno,” and to do so with an open mind. It’s a revealing portrait of Paterno’s entire life, including a fascinating look at the final months of his life.
SECOND THAT EMOTION: Jeff Gordon finished second in the final two races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He finished second at the AdvoCare 500 in Atlanta, held off by Denny Hamlin during the final two laps, then finished second to Clint Bowyer on Saturday at the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond. His reactions couldn’t have been more different.
When he finished second to Hamlin, Gordon thought he had missed his best opportunity to earn one of the two wild card berths in the Chase by achieving his second victory of the season. By finishing second to Bowyer and, more importantly, 14 positions ahead of Kyle Busch, Gordon grabbed the final berth in the Chase. That accomplishment is even more amazing when one considers that Gordon was a lap down when the rain-plagued Richmond race was stopped due to rain shortly before the halfway point.
“I went from last week, being the most disappointed I’ve ever been to finish second, to this week, being the most excited I’ve ever been to finish second,” Gordon said.
The 12 drivers in the Chase, which starts Sunday in Chicago, are Hamlin, Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Gordon.
OPEN SEASON: Congratulations to Serena Williams, who won her fourth U.S. Open title Sunday with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 triumph over Victoria Azarenka. Many thought Serena’s best days were behind her, but she’s returned with a vengeance this summer, winning at Wimbledon, the Olympics and now the U.S. Open.
TRIVIA QUESTION: When Andy Murray faces Novak Djokovic for the men’s U.S. Open championship on Monday, he will be trying to become the first British male to win a grand slam event in 76 years. He also will be trying to break another trend.
Since Andy Roddick, who retired last week at age 30, won the U.S. Open in 2003 – his lone grand slam title – only three players other than Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won grand slam titles. Who are the three players?
SCARY MOMENT: Oakland A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy was struck in the head with a line drive Wednesday night. Although McCarthy was able to sit up right away, he need two hours of surgery that night for a brain contusion, a skull fracture and an epidural hemorrhage.
A’s train Nick Paparesta said Saturday that, although McCarthy has made great progress, he’s still not completely past the “critical” stage of recovery. “Great progress” means McCarthy was sitting up most of Saturday morning, “fully able to express himself” and even posting on his Twitter account. Doctors still want him to go to a transitional care unit before moving into a regular hospital room.
SCARY MOMENT II: Tulane safety Devon Walker fractured his spine after smashing helmets with a teammate while making a tackle on Tulsa receiver Willie Carter after a short pass Saturday. Walker will need spinal surgery in the next day or two, according to Dr. Buddy Savoie. Walker never completely lost consciousness and, contrary to some reports Saturday, never stopped breathing, according to Savoie.
PhillyPhanatics.com sends our thoughts and prayers to Walker and McCarthy for a full recovery.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The answer to the trivia question earlier in this column is Gaston Gaudio (2004 French Open), Marat Safin (2005 Australian Open) and Juan Martin del Potro (2009 U.S. Open) are the only three grand slam winners besides Federer, Djokovic and Nadal since Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! This past Friday (Sept. 7) marked the second anniversary of PhillyPhanatics.com, which I co-founded with my friend and former high school classmate Ron Opher. We hope you enjoy the site and will help us spread the word about PhillyPhanatics.com so the site can continue to grow.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 24 years, is pleased to celebrate PhillyPhanatics.com’s second anniversary.