CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Penn State is still looking for its first win under coach Bill O'Brien. The Nittany Lions may not get more chances than they had against Virginia.
Cavaliers quarterback Michael Rocco hit Jake McGee on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 to play Saturday, and Penn State kicker Sam Ficken's fourth missed field goal of the game -- from 42 yards at the gun -- preserved Virginia's 17-16 victory.
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The loss in O'Brien's first road game had to hurt the Nittany Lions just as much, if not more so, than their defeat last weekend at home against Ohio. Penn State (0-2) forced four turnovers in Virginia territory, continually giving its offense opportunities, but it converted those chances into just three points.
Virginia's winning drive took 6:36 and covered 86 yards in 12 plays, the biggest blow a 44-yard pass from Rocco to McGee on third-and-16 from the Cavaliers' 22-yard line. Seven plays later, on third-and-goal from the 6, Rocco found McGee open again just inside the end zone, and Drew Jarrett's extra point was the difference.
If not for the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal that led the NCAA to hit Penn State hard with sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and the chance for its players to transfer without penalty, the Nittany Lions might have won easily. Among the departures: place-kicker Anthony Fera, who made 14 of 17 field goals last season. He went to Texas.
But the Nittany Lions still almost overcame the miscues, turning to their old standby of punishing defense. At least until the final drive.
The Nittany Lions couldn't stop Ohio in the second half last weekend, but forced three fumbles and an interception against the Cavaliers, giving them possessions that started at Virginia's 17 twice, its 19 and its 29. Only one of those take-aways, however, a fumble by Phiilip Sims at his 17, turned into points -- a 32-yard field goal by Ficken.
When that kick sailed through and the officials signaled it was good, even empathetic Virginia fans gave a cheer.
It also gave the Nittany Lions a 16-10 lead -- Ficken also had an extra point try blocked -- and then Rocco went to work.
After Virginia scored, Matt McGloin drove Penn State from its 27 to the Cavaliers 22, and even took a knee to center the ball between the hash marks with one second left, but Ficken's kick sailed wide left just as it started raining, and the crowd erupted in stunned glee.
McGloin, who finished 19 for 35 for 197 yards, left late in the first half and went to the locker room to have an injured elbow attended to, and returned a few plays into the third quarter with Virginia ahead 10-7. His first pass was a 23-yard completion to Alex Kenney on third-and-10 from the Nittany Lions' 25, keeping alive a drive that reached the Virginia 3 before O'Brien sent Ficken out to try from 20 yards. He'd already missed from 40 and 38, and this time, he missed again.
Early in the fourth quarter, McGloin gave Penn State the lead, hitting a diving Allen Robinson for a 30-yard touchdown, again on a third-and-7 play. When Ficken tried the extra point, Virginia linebacker Henry Coley slapped it away.
McGloin also threw a touchdown pass on the Lions' opening drive to Kyle Carter, capping a 17-play, 75-yard drive that signaled that this wasn't just another game for the beleaguered Nittany Lions.
After converting a long third down and then nearly another, O'Brien elected to take a chance on fourth-and-1 from his own 45 yard-line. McGloin got the necessary yard on a quarterback sneak, and four plays later, Michael Zordich ran for three yards on fourth-and-1 from the Virginia 45.
A personal foul penalty against Virginia defensive tackle Jake Snyder for continuing to play after his helmet popped off eventually moved the ball from the 20 to the 10, and on third-and-8, McGloin found Carter wide open.
Virginia started the second half the way Penn State started the game, driving for a touchdown.
Rocco had completions of 26 yards to McGee and 20 yards to Dominique Terrell on the 11-play, 77-yard march, and used a nifty play fake to free Jeremiah Mathis for a 1-yard touchdown reception.
That made it 10-7, and it stayed that way until McGloin's scoring pass to Robinson.