CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Penn State is still looking for its first win under coach Bill O'Brien. The Nittany Lions may not get more chances than they had against Virginia.
Cavaliers quarterback Michael Rocco hit Jake McGee on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 to play Saturday, and Penn State kicker Sam Ficken then missed his fourth field goal of the game — from 42 yards — to preserve Virginia's 17-16 victory.
"We just needed to make a play," senior quarterback Matt McGloin said of the final drive, which got Penn State to the Virginia 22. "That's something we practice every day. We got it down the field. Unfortunately, we just couldn't finish."
The loss in O'Brien's first road game had to hurt the Nittany Lions as much as their defeat last weekend at home against Ohio. Penn State (0-2) largely stymied Virginia'S offense and forced four turnovers in Virginia territory, continually giving its offense opportunities, but McGloin and Co. converted those chances into just three points.
And even the Nittany Lions' defense came up short when it mattered most.
Virginia's winning drive took 6:36 and covered 86 yards in 12 plays, the biggest blow a 44-yard pass from Rocco to McGee on third-and-16 from the Cavaliers' 22-yard line. Seven plays later, on third-and-goal from the 6, Rocco found McGee open again just inside the end zone, and Drew Jarrett's extra point was the difference.
"I was fired up and trying to get some more points on the board," McGee said of the third-down catch. "Rocco scrambled out of the pocket, he put it up, and I somehow came down with it. I don't know how I came down with it, but it stuck."
If not for the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal that led the NCAA to hit Penn State hard with sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and the chance for its players to transfer without penalty, the Nittany Lions might have won easily. Among the departures: placekicker Anthony Fera, who made 14 of 17 field goals last season. He went to Texas.
But the Nittany Lions still almost overcame the miscues, turning to their old standby of punishing defense — at least until the final drive. Virginia finished with just 32 yards on 25 carries and 295 yards in all, but converted 9 of 15 third down tries.
"I think there are some things to build on," said O'Brien, who was hired as Joe Paterno's permanent replacement after the revered coach was fired last November. "I think there are a lot of positives. I think these kids play extremely hard and I'm very proud to be associated with them and I really appreciate their effort. They really emptied the tank today."
The Nittany Lions couldn't stop Ohio in the second half last weekend, but on Saturday they forced three fumbles and an interception, giving them possessions that started at Virginia's 17 twice, its 19 and its 29. Only a fumble by Virginia backup quarterback Phiilip Sims at his 17 turned into points — a 32-yard field goal by Ficken.
When that kick sailed through and the officials signaled it was good, even empathetic Virginia fans gave a cheer.
It also gave the Nittany Lions a 16-10 lead — Ficken also had an extra point try blocked — and then Rocco went to work.