A rough day for Ficken, special teams

Sam Fickens performance in Penn States 23-20 overtime loss to Nebraska was the lowlight in a tough day Penn State's special teams.
Sam Fickens performance in Penn States 23-20 overtime loss to Nebraska was the lowlight in a tough day Penn State's special teams. (Ed Hille)
Posted: November 25, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Last week, Penn State kicker Sam Ficken showcased the physical side of his game on a touchdown-saving tackle against Purdue. Maybe Nebraska watched the film on him.

When Cornhuskers returner Kenny Bell breached all layers of Penn State's kick coverage in the third quarter Saturday, only Ficken remained to make the tackle. Bell easily hurdled the Nittany Lions' beleaguered kicker, breezing 99 yards for the touchdown.

"Kids are trying hard, though," coach Bill O'Brien said. "We just have to continue to work on it and fix it. We work hard on special teams, and we'll continue to work hard on special teams this coming week."

Ficken's performance in Penn State's 23-20 overtime loss to Nebraska was the lowlight in an overall abysmal day for the Lions' special teams. The junior missed an extra point in the first quarter that may have changed the way both teams played this game.

Ficken then missed a 37-yard redemption shot in overtime, allowing the Huskers to win on the ensuing possession.

Junior cornerback Adrian Amos said the Lions did not pin Saturday's loss on one person.

"It's a team loss. It's nobody's fault," he said. "Before the missed kick, there's a lot of things we could have done to win the game and we didn't win the game. I didn't even think about if Sam missed it or didn't."

Ficken finished 2012 strong and carried that success into 2013. On Sept. 21, he made a career-long 54-yard field goal against Kent State.

Since Oct. 12, he has missed four of his last 10 tries.

As Amos emphasized, the blame for Penn State's special-teams woes Saturday doesn't lie with Ficken alone. The kick coverage crew has allowed two returns for touchdowns in the last two games. Bell's return Saturday silenced what had been a rowdy Beaver Stadium, still enjoying a recent Penn State touchdown.

"Obviously that's a momentum switcher, and it flipped the momentum a little bit," Amos said. "But my mind-set is just play the next play. Control what you can control."

Penn State's Jesse Della Valle had one good return, but he also fumbled the first punt of the game and nearly lost it to the Cornhuskers.

He couldn't say whether the special-teams results in the game reflect the results in practice.

"We just have to keep fighting on like we always do," Della Valle said. "That's the main mentality for next week, so we'll just keep fighting on and finishing out the season."

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