CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The numbers didn't add up.
Penn State forced four turnovers, didn't turn the ball over, held Virginia to a mere 32 yards rushing and watched the Cavaliers shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly with 10 penalties.
In front of that kind of statistical backdrop, the Nittany Lions have rarely lost over the years.
But they limped out of Scott Stadium smarting from a 17-16 loss to Virginia on Saturday afternoon, and while the general consensus cited significant one-game improvement over last week's second-half malaise against Ohio, this result was still the same.
"We're right there," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "It just seems something is holding us back."
The obvious explanation is a kicking game that somehow produced four missed field goals, including a potential 42-yard game-winner as time expired, and a blocked extra point.
But that inability in the clutch was punctuated by an offense that moved the ball well between the 20s but couldn't take advantage of incredible field position after turnovers gave the offense the ball at the Virginia 17, 19, 29 and 17.
Presented those four golden opportunities, Penn State produced a negative 14 yards and three points when its beleaguered kicker, Sam Ficken, nailed a 32-yard field goal to extend the Nittany Lions' lead to 16-10 in the fourth quarter.
"There were some plays in the red area I could have called better to give the guys a better chance," Lion coach Bill O'Brien, who relied on the run in the red zone, said. "We can't come away with no points with all those turnovers. That was a difference in the ballgame."
A PSU defense that seemed to wilt last week did more than its share here until Virginia - facing third-and-16 at its own 22 with five minutes left, trailing by a TD and probably down to its last breath - unloaded a 44-yard completion from Michael Rocco to Jake McGee.
Virginia was 5-of-15 on third down until its last drive, but made its last four conversions, and the Cavaliers' 7-of-9 conversions in the second half means the Lion defense has given up 18 of 21 third downs in the second half of its 0-2 start.
"I thought the defense played their tails off," O'Brien said. "We have to stop people on third and long and keep grinding."
Overall, particularly in a loud opposing stadium, Penn State made strides, sustained maximum intensity longer and "emptied the tank today," O'Brien said.
Virginia and Ohio are both about top 50 programs, and that's about where Penn State might be in the wake of its defections. No question kicker Anthony Fera's absence via transfer was most notably felt Saturday, though nobody would say so.
"Never crossed my mind," was McGloin's response on whether Fera would have made a difference.
O'Brien, more talkative than the despondence he showed after the Ohio loss, felt his team played harder this week.
He focused on "a lot of positives, and I think there are some things to build on."
One is a collective resolve strengthened by the off-field disappointments that have altered everyone's perspective.
"It will click," McGloin, who gave a gallant effort after injuring his right elbow that was heavily wrapped afterward, said. "We played great defensively and moved the ball offensively. It seems everything's going against us right now, but we're closer than ever. Nobody's bailing out or thinking bad.
We're 0-2, unfortunately, but we have 10 games left."
"I was pretty happy with our defensive effort," Michael Mauti, who was all over the field, said. "I think it was a big improvement over last week."
Like his teammates, neither Mauti nor McGloin was overly down.
"We've overcome so much in the past already," McGloin said, "that this is nothing compared to that."
Next up are home games with Navy and Temple. Once longtime PSU opponents in the 1960s and 1970s, the Midshipmen and Owls have never looked so good.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.