Penn State Nittany Lions: navy-psu-091512

Dukes, Zordich take over for injured RBs

September, 15, 2012
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With its two starting tailbacks sidelined with injuries, the Nittany Lions were expected to struggle running the ball.

Instead, the two bruising backup tailbacks -- Michael Zordich and Curtis Dukes -- combined for 22 carries and 98 yards. Maybe that number isn't all that impressive, but the duo averaged a full yard more on each carry than Penn State's rushing attack managed in the first two games.

Dukes and Zordich grinded for about 4.5 yards a carry Saturday. Entering the game, PSU averaged about 3.3 yards per rushing attempt.

Bill O'Brien said Zordich, who usually plays fullback, was in his ear constantly this week about his ability to run the ball. "I used to the run the ball in high school, coach," O'Brien said Zordich kept reminding him. "I used to run the ball in high school, coach."

"He's like Ferris Bueller's teacher," O'Brien said with a laugh.

Zordich ran 11 times for 50 yards, and Dukes had 11 attempts for 48 yards. The statuses of starter Bill Belton and backup Derek Day remain uncertain.

Kicker Sam Ficken's woes continue

September, 15, 2012
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A week after a 1-for-5 kicking performance, Sam Ficken struggled again Saturday.

He pushed an extra point wide right, and Bill O'Brien didn't seem to put a lot of trust into the sophomore kicker. The coach opted to throw in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play -- instead of kick -- from the 8-yard line. The pass fell incomplete.

"I just felt good about the play call," O'Brien insisted. "It had nothing to do with Ficken."

Fans continued to show support for the scholarship kicker. Two signs near the end zone were dedicated to him. One read, "Stickin' with Ficken" and was positioned behind the south field goal posts.

And, on his first two extra points, the crowd roared when the the refs raised their arms to signal they were good.

Still, Penn State is starting to feel the sting from Anthony Fera's transfer to Texas. Ficken is making just 20 percent of his field goals, and he's nailed just 77 percent of his extra points this season.

Ficken was not made available to the media for the second consecutive week. He finished 4-of-5 on extra points Saturday and did not attempt a field goal. With walk-on Matt Marcincin's surprise departure this week, Kevin DiSanto is Penn State's only other option at placekicker.

Deion Barnes becoming top pass-rusher

September, 15, 2012
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Deion Barnes is fast becoming the Nittany Lions' most feared pass-rusher.

Initially pegged as a situational defensive end, the redshirt freshman's time on the field has increased because of a variety of injuries to starter Pete Massaro. And Barnes has made the most of the added playing time.

Barnes recorded his third sack of the season Saturday and now leads the team. For the second consecutive game, he also forced a fumble by reaching for the ball when going after the quarterback.

"I'm very confident right now in my ability to be a big pass-rusher," Barnes said after the game.

Only one other Penn State player has more than one sack this season. Anthony Zettel recorded two Saturday and is No. 2 on PSU's sack list. But Barnes said he plans to remain the team leader in that statistical category.

"We all battle about it every week who's going to get the most sacks," he said. "I definitely did think before the season I was going to have the most."

Barnes has seven tackles this season and a team-high two forced fumbles.

Allen Robinson catches three TDs vs. Navy

September, 15, 2012
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Allen Robinson stared at his hands last week when they failed him against Virginia. Twice he dropped the ball, and he mentioned all week he needed to maintain his focus.

Consider that mission accomplished.

[+] EnlargeAllen Robinson
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarAllen Robinson didn't hang on to this pass, but he did catch three TDs against Navy, the first Penn State player to accomplish that in three seasons.
On Saturday, the sophomore became the first Penn State player in three years to haul in a trio of touchdown catches. He finished with five receptions for a career-high 136 yards -- and enough big plays to splice together about a two-minute highlight tape.

"I just go out there and try to play football," Robinson said. "And Matt [McGloin] was able to hook up with me early."

Matt McGloin found Robinson twice in the first quarter on a pair of 45-yard passes. On one throw, McGloin found the 6-foot-3 wideout 20 yards downfield. Robinson juked one defender, cut inside and sprinted another 25 yards for the score.

He averaged 27 yards a catch. Before the game, Penn State's longest pass traveled 30 yards.

"Usually if you're 6-3, you're not going to run a 4.3," receivers coach Stan Hixon said, "but with his route-running, he can create separation."

The 201-pound wideout entered this season as an unheralded player with just three career receptions next to his name. He's now fast becoming one of best receivers in the Big Ten.

Entering Saturday, he led the conference in receptions -- outcatching the No. 2, Purdue's O.J. Ross, by half-a-dozen. Robinson now has 24 receptions for 322 yards and four touchdowns.

Robinson said he spent the offseason working with any quarterback who would throw to him -- starter Matt McGloin, backup Steven Bench, QB-turned-TE Paul Jones -- to rehearse his route-running. Because of the constant repetition, Robinson said he made the jump from above-average route runner to a great one.

Cornerback Stephon Morris said a few weeks ago Robinson was his favorite receiver to line up against. He had trouble picking up the wideout's tendencies when he ran routes.

"I told you," Morris said Saturday." He's going to be hard to cover."

Robinson's final big play might have been the most impressive. Late in the third quarter, McGloin tossed a slightly high spiral over the middle to Trevor Williams. The true freshman deflected the ball into the air, and Robinson pulled down the volley about five yards deep in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.

That was his third touchdown, the most for a PSU receiver since Graham Zug hauled in three in 2009 against Michigan.

Robinson was told his phone would likely be ringing every few minutes from coaches hoping for an end-of-the-season transfer. But he said going elsewhere isn't a consideration.

"I'm definitely here with Coach O'Brien and Penn State," he said. "It's not really about playing in the Big Ten championships or playing in a bowl game."

Instant analysis: Penn State 34, Navy 7

September, 15, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State rebounded from an 0-2 start behind a strong offensive effort and opportunistic defense Saturday.

The Nittany Lions (1-2) forced four turnovers and finished with 341 total yards in a 34-7 victory over Navy. The Midshipmen's secondary couldn't adjust to Matt McGloin, who found eight different receivers and threw for 231 yards.

The win comes at a critical time for Penn State, which hasn't started 0-3 since 2001. Navy drops to 0-2 with the loss.

It was over when: McGloin connected with Allen Robinson on a 45-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter. McGloin threw the pass about 20 yards, but Robinson faked a defender, cut inside and sprinted another 25 yards for the score. That put Penn State ahead 14-0 and set the tone with PSU's passing game. Navy never recovered.

The game ball goes to: Robinson. He made three big plays, all three of which occurred on touchdown drives, and helped PSU threaten with the deep ball -- something it hadn't yet done entering this game. He finished with five catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Stat of the game: Two, the number of turnovers that Penn State turned into touchdowns. The Nittany Lions couldn't capitalize last week off four turnovers but did better with four turnovers against Navy -- including a 74-yard fumble return by linebacker Mike Hull.

Unsung heroes: Curtis Dukes and Michael Zordich. They weren't flashy, they didn't have a lot of stats, but they made the most out of each of their 22 combined carries. The bruising duo helped fill the void of Penn State's top two tailbacks, Bill Belton and Derek Day, who were both out with injuries. Dukes ran for 47 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and Zordich had 11 carries for 50 yards.

What it means: Finishing around .500 remains a possibility. A loss here would have shut the door on Penn State finishing 6-6. It drove downfield against Virginia but couldn't find the end zone. Here, it finally put everything together and looked good against an overmatched Navy squad. Penn State showed it can impress offensively; the only question left is whether it can do that consistently.

Halftime analysis: Penn State 20, Navy 0

September, 15, 2012
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Even with its top two tailbacks injured, Penn State might be playing its best offensive game of the season.

Curtis Dukes leads the team with 37 yards on seven carries, as the Lions' racked up 262 total yards to Navy's 130.

Matt McGloin also had one of the best halves of this career: He completed his first seven passes and has 196 yards and three touchdowns.

Stat of the half: Two. Number of 45-yard passes caught by Allen Robinson. Penn State hasn't thrown a pass longer than 30 yards this season, so having two pass plays that gained more than 40 yards has really helped PSU spread the field.

Player of the half: Robinson. He's already reached his career-high in yardage -- and it's just been two quarters. Robinson has four catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

What's working for PSU: Passing game. McGloin is 11-of-16 for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Navy's secondary appears overmatched, and McGloin is throwing downfield on intermediate and deep routes more often than ever before.

What's not working for PSU: Stopping runs on the outside. Penn State's playing a pretty solid game, but the one element that needs improvement is stopping the option when it creeps to the outside. Navy drove down the field once because PSU couldn't contain those plays. For PSU to pull away even more in this game, it needs to shore up its defense there.

Offensive play of the half: McGloin found Allen Robinson along the left sideline for a 20-yard catch, but Robinson juked the defender, cut inside and took it another 25 yards for the score. It put PSU ahead 14-0 in the first quarter.

Defensive play of the half: With Navy threatening in the first quarter, linebacker Gerald Hodges made a leaping interception to halt the Middies' drive 11 yards from the end zone. That was the closest Navy's been to putting points on the board. PSU converted that turnover into a touchdown.

Pressing concern: Sam Ficken missed his second extra point of the season when he lined up after Penn State's third touchdown of the first half.

He made just 1-of-5 field goals last week and missed an extra point, so it doesn't seem as if he's made a big improvement.