O'Brien said if there were five or six more seconds, he would have tried to move the ball closer. If it were a few yards further, he wouldn't have attempted it.
But as time expired, Ficken took the kick which would've given O'Brien his first win as a head coach. The ball sailed wide left. Virginia players stormed the field as the Cavaliers (2-0) defeated Penn State (0-2), 17-16.
Ficken stood still. It was his fourth missed field goal of the game (the others were from 40, 38 and 20 yards). He also had an extra point blocked after a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Afterward, O'Brien told the 19-year-old, "the sun will come out tomorrow."
The sun did appear as Virginia fans sang the alma mater and the Cavaliers ran into the tunnel after an on-field celebration. Then it poured in Charlottesville.
"It's not always about the kicker," O'Brien said. "The kicker's always the one that gets blamed but it's the whole operation. The snap, the hold, the kick."
Ficken, who made a 32-yard yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, was not made available after the game. His teammates said the kicker was visibly upset.
"He's a great team guy so he's obviously going to accept responsibility," guard John Urschel said. "It's not him at all. We lost as a team."
Ficken took over kicking duties this summer after Anthony Fera transferred to Texas. Fera - an all-Big Ten punter who became the first Penn State player in more than 30 years to handle field goals, kickoffs and punts - has not played yet for the Longhorns, sidelined with a groin injury.
Ficken, a Dean's list selection last spring, did not attempt a field goal in last week's 24-14 loss to Ohio. But in the fourth quarter on Saturday, when Ficken lined up for the extra point after Allen Robinson's 30-yard touchdown, Virginia fans standing on the hill behind the end zone began to chant.
"97!" they taunted, clapping five times. "97!"
They knew the 19-year-old was fragile, and his extra point attempt was blocked.
"We have another game in a week," center Matt Stankiewitch said. "Hopefully we'll score a touchdown, or he can kick a field goal, and he'll have another chance to make it."
O'Brien said he and his staff will have to talk about it, but for now, Ficken is their kicker.