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Virginia Football: 5 Questions Following the 17-16 Victory over Penn State

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJune 26, 2016

Virginia Football: 5 Questions Following the 17-16 Victory over Penn State

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    In one of the most bizarre games you will ever see, Virginia found a way to escape with a 17-16 victory over the reeling Penn State Nittany Lions.

    The game saw four turnovers, four missed field goals and 13 penalties.

    Despite the ugly game, there are plenty of lessons to be learned for both teams.

    How did Virginia's offense go from a 43-point juggernaut to a 17-point befuddling mess?

    How will the Virginia defense clean up their tackling and decision-making as the ACC season approaches?

    Will the quarterback carousel be turned off or kicked into a higher gear?

    We attempt to answer the questions and more as we examine the Penn State thriller.


What Happened to Perry Jones and the Running Game?

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    He may be nicknamed Superman, but Kryptonite seems to be littering Scott Stadium.

    Senior running back Perry Jones had a stellar 2011 as the Virginia Cavalier rushing attack finished fourth in the conference with just over 162 yards per game.

    This season, however, Jones has looked more pedestrian. His east-west running has caught up to him as that blazing speed has been unable to really to break down the field for a big play.

    This has been the problem in the past and really cost Virginia at the end of the year against Virginia Tech and Auburn where the acceleration gap was nullified. In his final three games of the season, he ran for a combined 59 yards after rushing for 213 yards in the two games prior.

    In 2012, Jones is averaging only three yards per carry and was stifled to 14 yards on eight carries against Penn State this weekend.

    Without his explosiveness, Virginia is not the same team on offense. A combined effort of 32 rushing yards is the lowest since 2005 and the lowest in a victory since 2002.

    If the bruising Clifton Richardson returns from a hamstring injury, maybe things will improve. However, the offensive line is to blame as well. Without a better protection and blocking scheme, no one is going to break through for a big gain.

Did Phillip Sims Blow His Chance?

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    Fans had to be careful what they asked for this Saturday.

    After an inexplicable fumble and turnover between Michael Rocco and the center, sophomore Phillip Sims was thrown into the game and given reins of the offense.

    If he had helped lead Virginia to victory, he might have taken the starting job and never looked back. Instead, Sims had two possessions with one fumble and zero first downs.

    The poise and arm strength that had made fans clamoring was markedly absent this time around against the Nittany Lion defense.

    Rocco came in and led the Cavaliers to victory, in fact, he went 7-of-7 for 99 yards on the final Virginia drive of the game.

    While coach Mike London insisted that the switch to Sims earlier in the game had nothing to do with Rocco's play, you have to believe that a touchdown or big play by Sims would have made that switch back much more difficult.

    Virginia fans have to be concerned. A quarterback roulette like last season could prove costly, and despite the poor outing, Sims will likely get another chance.

    If he does not, though, and Rocco takes the starter's role and runs with it like he did in 2011, Sims will remember this moment.

Is the Penalty Fest a Blip or a Trend?

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    Virginia played a clean game against Richmond to open the season, leaving many to wonder if the days of blundering mistakes and yellow laundry on the field was finally over.


    With 10 penalties for 70 yards, the Cavaliers did an amazing job shooting themselves in the foot. Holding penalties mired an offense that was already out of rhythm, and the mental errors continued to drive fans slowly insane.

    Virginia may be talented, but they cannot be successful if they continue to hand their opponents yards. In 2010, the Cavaliers were one of the most penalized teams in the country, and that trend has a way of showing up against the top teams.

    Virginia cannot be taken seriously if they commit silly penalties. A one-game slip is excusable, but a full-out barrage of yellow could cost the Cavaliers big time in 2012.

Is Jake McGee the Offensive MVP?

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    Not since Heath Miller has a tight end gotten the kind of attention that Jake McGee has?

    McGee had the play of the game against Richmond with his one-handed catch on third down, but his encore against Penn State was simply masterful.

    With four receptions for 99 yards, including a critical conversion on 3rd-and-16 as well as the game-winning touchdown catch, McGee is creating his own cult status.

    Considering that higher-profile guys like Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell, Tim Smith and the entire wide receiver corps had more big drops than big plays in the first half, McGee may get more and more looks as the season continues.

    Sure, McGee has competition with other tight ends, but no one can deny his performance, so far, this season.

    Ask anyone, a strong pass-catching tight end is a valuable safety valve. Virginia Tech fans will contend that it was the difference in Virginia's 2003 victory over the Hokies.

    Can McGee follow a similar script this season?

Is Sam Ficken Ever Going to Recover?

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    I know this should be focused on Virginia, but we all know that the MVP for the Cavaliers was Penn State kicker Sam Ficken.

    Thrown into the starting spot after the incumbent kicker transferred to Texas, Ficken became one of the most infamous goats in Nittany Lion history.

    Heck, the last time Virginia had an opponent miss four field goals was in 1964.

    Losing four turnovers should be enough to sink any team, but not when your opponent only scores a combined three points off the turnovers.

    Ficken reminds me of Alexis Serna, the Oregon State kicker who missed three PATs in a 22-21 loss to defending BCS champion LSU.

    Serna actually went on to be a Lou Groza award winner the following season but will forever be remembered for that tough beginning.

    I hope Ficken can have a similar turnaround; no one wants their career to be defined by such a sour note. Virginia fans know that they did not deserve that victory, but they will gladly take it.

    With some solid play, the Cavaliers can put together a strong season.

    Penn State can redeem their season as well, but the road will be quite longer.

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