The latest NCAA statistics released Sunday showed Penn State ranked 117th among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in third-down conversion defense, allowing 61.1 percent of third-down plays to result in first downs.
If you just take the second half into consideration, the Lions are 18 of 21 in third-down defense, or 85.7 percent, against Ohio and Virginia.
While Penn State coach Bill O'Brien was pleased with the turnovers and the fact he felt his defenders "played their tails off," he knows the third-down defense is an area that needs work.
"We need to look at the tape and see how Virginia attacked us," he said. "We'll have to study it. I think Virginia made some plays. They have a good coaching staff and some good players that made the play. We just have to coach it better."
The killer during the Cavaliers' winning drive came on a third and 16 from their 22, when quarterback Michael Rocco connected deep with 6-foot-5 tight end Jake McGee, who caught the ball over two Penn State defenders for a 44-yard gain.
"They had a couple of third and longs that they completed," cornerback Stephon Morris said. "We've got to do a better job on third down. Coach O'Brien and Coach Roof had been preaching that the whole week after the Ohio game. They wanted to make sure we did a better job on third down, but things just didn't go our way."
Kicking also did not go the Lions' way.
Sophomore Sam Ficken, the only scholarship kicker on the roster with the transfer of Anthony Fera to Texas, missed four field-goal attempts, including a 42-yarder on the last play of the game, and had an extra point blocked.
After the game, O'Brien declared "Sam is our kicker," and added he will talk with his staff to see what they can do to help Ficken get better, which would have to include rebuilding his confidence. But the coach may give a look to his backup, redshirt freshman Matt Marcincin, a native of Malvern.
O'Brien also must address the Lions' running game. Starting tailback Bill Belton stayed home with an ankle injury, and his replacement, Derek Day, hurt his shoulder in the third quarter. For the game, Day and backups Curtis Dukes and Zach Zwinak averaged just 2.5 yards on 31 carries.
If Belton and Day are unavailable for Saturday's game against Navy at Beaver Stadium, O'Brien probably will have to use freshman Akeel Lynch. Lynch, a promising prospect, is believed to be a candidate for a redshirt, given that he did not play in either of the first two games.
Despite all that's happened in just two weeks, O'Brien will remain positive with his players.
"We just have to keep working hard," he said. "The kids left it all out there [Saturday], there's no question about that, and I really appreciate their effort. We'll break through. We just have to do a better job in the red area offensively and stop people on third and long. We have to keep fighting. The sun will come up tomorrow."
Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at www.philly.com/sports/lioneyes