Nothing coming easy for Penn State
September, 8, 2012
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- About a dozen dedicated Penn State fans lined the driveway of an underground garage at Scott Stadium and clapped politely as three buses with players and coaches slowly pulled in.
It wasn't a secret entrance. There wasn't enhanced security. It was the same routine Virginia does for every home game, every opponent.
Maybe all Penn State had to do was leave home to find a sense of normalcy.
There is a new normal, though, for the Nittany Lions under first-year coach Bill O’Brien. Nothing comes easy -- including wins and field goals. For the first time since 2001, Penn State is off to an 0-2 start after Saturday's 17-16 loss to Virginia.
After an emotional loss to Ohio last weekend in Beaver Stadium, those within Penn State's program weren't sure how it would be received by Virginia fans in its first road trip in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. As it turned out, Virginia was kind to the Nittany Lions on and off the field, but it's a story that is likely to travel with Penn State wherever it goes.
For now -- for these players -- the focus shifts to avoiding an 0-3 start.
"It will click," said Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, who spoke to reporters with a bag of ice wrapped around his sore right elbow. "When it happens, it happens.
"Right now we've got to find a way. We've got to fight through this. We've overcome so much in the past already that this is nothing compared to what we've been through. I have no doubt in my mind that myself, my team and coaching staff come Monday will be ready to work harder than ever."
There is definitely work to be done -- for both Penn State and Virginia.
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffBill O'Brien and Penn State fell to 0-2 after a one-point loss at Virginia.
The Cavaliers had four turnovers and 10 penalties, but Virginia held Penn State to minus-14 yards and three points after the turnovers. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken missed four of five field goals, including what could have been a 42-yard game-winner as time expired. It was the first time since 1964 that a Virginia opponent missed four field goals.
It didn’t end there. Penn State converted just 10 of 23 third downs and was 2-for-5 in the red zone.
They were stats O'Brien had no desire to see. He tossed the paper on the floor as he walked briskly to his spot at the front of the room for his postgame news conference.
"We're not going to accept this loss. We're not going to accept losing," said Penn State right tackle Mike Farrell. "The attitude we come in with is what it's been all along -- through ups and downs, bad breaks, tough breaks, things people said weren't fair breaks. We'll definitely move forward with that in mind."
What's remarkable is that Penn State almost won with its backup quarterback and backup running back in for most of the game. Its leading rusher last season, Silas Redd, is playing for USC, and its much-needed kicker, Anthony Fera, is at Texas.
The team the Nittany Lions have, though, is the one they're sticking with.
"I think these kids played extremely hard. I'm very, very proud to be associated with them," O'Brien said. "I think they emptied the tank today, and I really appreciate it."
So did many of the Penn State fans in attendance. During Virginia's final scoring drive, Scott Stadium was about as loud as it gets, but this was hardly a hostile environment. A school spokesman said Penn State sold its allotment of 3,300 tickets, and the chant of "We Are! Penn State!" could be heard in the parking lot before the game as Virginia players and coaches made their way into the stadium.
This isn't Ohio State, though, where a longstanding rivalry can bring out the worst in people. This was Virginia, where the tailgating scene might be confused for the Kentucky Derby. Women in hats and dresses and men in khakis and ties far outnumber inflammatory T-shirts and insulting signs.
"Everyone should show love to Penn State at this time," said Philip Licata, a Virginia fan who was tailgating with his family before the game. "They need it."
They're not going to get support everywhere they go, but one thing that hasn't changed at Penn State is the fans.
"You can cut me; I'll bleed blue," said Bill Cressler, a season-ticket holder from Shippensburg, Pa., who was waiting outside the garage for the buses to arrive. "I will not back down. … I have too much pride."
So does this group of Nittany Lions. Then again, that's the norm in this game.