Last updated: February 16. 2013 11:53PM - 173 Views

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Saturday's game was disheartening for Sam Ficken and Penn State. What came afterward was what really bothered the Nittany Lions.

Students, fans and random strangers took to social media and deluged Ficken with criticism and insults after the kicker missed four field goals – including the potential game-winner on the final play – and had an extra point blocked in a 17-16 loss to Virginia.

Speaking Tuesday at his weekly press conference, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien defended Ficken, who was a popular target on Twitter and Facebook throughout the weekend.

"Well, obviously I think it's absolutely ridiculous," O'Brien said. "Not just because it's a 19-year-old college kid. It's just because, I mean, it's anonymous in some ways, and in other ways it's not. But at the end of the day, you know, these guys are really playing hard, giving great effort for us.

"To go on – whatever, ‘Spacebook' or ‘Tweeter' or whatever – and put stuff on there is just absolutely ridiculous to me. And very cowardly, to be honest with you.

"If people really knew these kids and understood the effort that they put forth, and how hard they play, and how hard they train and how much it means to them … I don't know. I just don't know what type of people do that."

O'Brien said the kicking job has been open ever since Anthony Fera transferred to Texas, and that Ficken continues to come out on top in practice.

"It's not like it's just been that Sam Ficken's been our kicker no matter what," O'Brien said. "We open it up every week, and he's won the job every week. That's what we've been doing from day one."

In other words, expect Ficken to be right back out there on Saturday against Navy. Penn State's other options – Matt Marcincin, Kevin DiSanto or even receiver Evan Lewis, who opened last season as the starting kicker – haven't distinguished themselves.

Not that Ficken doesn't have some work to do. O'Brien said the biggest thing for him was to be more consistent with the direction of his plant foot on field goals, which would help his accuracy.

"Sam, obviously he's gotta do better in his technique," O'Brien said. "And he's really working on it. I mean, he must have kicked 300 kicks (Monday) in practice. (O'Brien later said he was exaggerating on the number). So he's really working on it, and he takes a lot of pride in it.

"He's a great kid. He's a Dean's List student. And he'll be back."

The Gambler

It's not just field goals that the Lions are struggling with, but punting as well. Given his special teams woes, expect O'Brien to continue to be aggressive and keep his offense on the field on fourth downs.

"Once we get really close to the 50, I'm pretty much not going to punt it. I'm just going to tell you that," O'Brien said. "We're going to go for it. Unless it's fourth and forever (then we'll) probably punt it. But if it's a manageable fourth down, we're going to go for it.

"We prepare the kids for it. The kids know we're going to go for it. So I think it's been OK."

Through two games, Penn State has already gone for it seven times on fourth down, converting five times, including a successful fake punt run by Glenn Carson.

Last season, the Lions went for it 18 times over 13 games.

Infirmary report

The running game continues to be a dicey situation for the Lions, and they may not have their top two tailbacks ready for Saturday.

Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (shoulder) are both day-to-day and O'Brien said he's "not sure if they're going to be able to play."

That would leave Curtis Dukes, Zach Zwinak and fullback Michael Zordich to share the load against Navy. O'Brien again said his preference is to redshirt true freshman Akeel Lynch if possible.

O'Brien said left tackle Donovan Smith (foot/ankle) is also day-to-day. The redshirt freshman has had to come out for long stretches with "bumps and bruises" in each of the first two games.

Belton, Day, Pete Massaro (shoulder) and Valley View grad Nyeem Wartman (knee) were all listed as "possible" on Penn State's weekly injury report.

One player who is expected to be fine is quarterback Matt McGloin, who missed parts of two drives against Virginia after taking two hard shots to his throwing elbow.

McGloin did not throw in practice on Monday to rest his right arm, but O'Brien said he will be "ready to go this week. … He's a tough kid. He looks all right to me."

Still making the switch

Backup Paul Jones will continue to work a bit with the quarterbacks, but when he makes his college debut this weekend, O'Brien again said it would come at the F-tight end spot.

"The ‘F' position is not really a true tight end," O'Brien said. "It's somebody that can play out wide as a wide receiver. It's somebody that can play in a wing position in the formation. It's somebody that's a ‘move guy,' somebody that can line up in the backfield. And Paul came out (Monday) and played that position.

"He's also still a quarterback. So we're asking him to do a lot of different things. He's got a package of plays at quarterback, so if we needed him, he can do that, too. We're just trying to get our best players on the field, and he's certainly a guy that we've got to play. And that's on me to get him into the game."


Navy at Penn State

TV: 3:30 p.m., ABC, WNEP-16

Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park.

Last Meeting: Navy defeated PSU 7-6 on Sept. 21, 1974.

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