One of the most overlooked players when a college football team is awarding scholarships is the kicker. It stands to reason the position would suffer even more when a school is under fire and the NCAA is stripping 10 initial and 20 total scholarships.
The problem I've always had with this approach is that a bad kicker can lose a team several games a season.
Penn State beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Scott Brown commented on the kicker issue just after Ficken missed his second attempt on Saturday:
Another missed FG by Ficken. I always though PSU would lose at least one game this season because of loss of Fera. May have to amend that.— Scott Brown (@ScottBrown_Trib) September 8, 2012
Most close games have several plays that can tip the balance; rarely do I believe that one person ever "wins" or "loses" a game.
But the Penn State Nittany Lions (0-2) and Sam Ficken have given us a loss that falls squarely on one small set of shoulder pads.
Ficken saw virtually no meaningful action for Penn State as a true freshman in 2011. He had a PAT and was 1-of-2 in field-goal attempts. He was expected to have a few seasons to grow into a starting role.
Anthony Fera was the expected starter for the next two seasons and was 14-of-17 on FGs and 20-of-20 on PATs last year. He opted to bolt when given the opportunity, joining the Texas Longhorns.
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien said Ficken did "a really nice job of placekicking" during summer camp. "His kickoffs look decent, his field-goal range looks pretty decent. I've been happy with Sam."
While little was made of it at the time, "decent" isn't exactly overwhelming praise.
Perhaps Ficken had an issue with nerves in this game, but he was far from decent when his team had the opportunity to upset Virginia.
There aren't many reasons to believe this was just a one-game issue and that all will be fine the rest of the season.
Ninety percent of the placekicker job is mental. Once doubt and disappointment creep in, it is tough to get back on track.
But O'Brien has few issues other than sticking Ficken back out there to attempt to right the ship. There are two other kickers on the roster, but neither has attempted a kick in a collegiate game, and they weren't impressive over the summer.
Some have joked about holding open tryouts and bringing the soccer team in to compete for the job, but that just isn't a realistic option at this point in the season.
Ficken has the ability, and he did opt to stand behind his program when Fera left. He deserves an opportunity at redemption.
O'Brien needs to shake things up just a little, though. He should send Ficken onto the practice field tomorrow with Penn State's long snapper and a new holder.
Fans may groan when they see him take the field against Navy next weekend, but Ficken needs to work through the pain and attempt to grow into a quality collegiate kicker.