Ficken denied chance as O'Brien goes for it
UNIVERSITY PARK - Bill O'Brien made an intriguing decision late in the first half when he opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 8 rather than letting Sam Ficken try a 25-yard field goal.
The Lions were already leading, 20-0, and Ficken had missed the PAT after their third touchdown. That, of course, came after he missed four field goals and a PAT last week at Virginia.
O'Brien had a decision to make: See if his offense could build a bigger lead, or give his struggling kicker an opportunity to try a short field goal to build some confidence.
"I just felt good about the play call," O'Brien said. "It had nothing to do with Sam Ficken."
Penn State came up empty on the drive as Matt McGloin misfired on fourth down. The Lions tried only one other fourth-down attempt, which they converted.
In pregame warmups, the Penn State student section cheered loudly each time Ficken made a kick. He converted four extra points during the game, and the crowd showed its support each time with loud cheers.
Zordich gets his shot
Since O'Brien arrived at Penn State, Michael Zordich has been in his ear.
"Michael and I have had a lot of conversations about his role on the football team, and he's always reminded me 'I used to run the football in high school, Coach. I used to run the football in high school, Coach.'" O'Brien said. "It's like Ferris Bueller's teacher. Just over and over."
Because of injuries to the top two tailbacks on the depth chart - Bill Belton and Derek Day - Zordich got his shot on Saturday. He finished as the Nittany Lions' leading rusher with 50 yards on 11 carries.
"I've been wanting to do that. He gave me the opportunity. I took advantage and had a lot of fun today," Zordich said.
Curtis Dukes also got a chance and chipped in with 49 yards in 11 attempts. A 230-pounder with a burst of speed, he drew "ooohs" from the crowd on a 3-yard run in the first half when he bulldozed a Navy tackler.
In his previous three years, Zordich only had 35 rushes and the most he had in any season was 18. His yardage bettered his previous best year by 10 yards.
"I really haven't carried the ball since four years ago, so I was anxious," Zordich said.
"He's got to get his pads down a little more, but I thought, for the most part, he did a good job," O'Brien said.
DT Hill gets shot on offense
Jordan Hill is an All-America candidate at defensive tackle, but he's no stranger to offense as he played fullback in high school. Hill got a shot to line up on offense at the goal line on PSU's first touchdown, serving as an H-back.
"I love being on offense," Hill said. "It brought back my glory days of high school."
At Steelton-Highspire High School, Hill served as a blocker for Jeremiah Young, who set a state record with 9,027 rushing yards.
Hill said he has caught three TD passes in practice, and when asked if he'd be used as a runner, receiver or blocker, he said, "All options are available."
O'Brien mentioned during the week that the offense would have a mystery running back. So was it Hill?
"No," the coach said before later conceding, "He's part of that mystery running back committee."
Dish Network drops BTN
DISH Network subscribers nationwide no longer have access to Big Ten Network, after the two sides were unable to reach a carriage agreement.
Penn State's game at Iowa on Oct. 20 will be broadcast by BTN, plus at least one more remaining contest this season. If DISH and BTN can't reach an agreement, Dish subscribers will not be able to watch those games. BTN released the following statement Saturday:
"BTN attempted to complete an agreement with DISH. We thought that we were making progress, unfortunately that was not the case. On Friday, September 14th, DISH dropped BTN. We are disappointed to report that DISH does not see the value in the network in the same way that so many of their customers do, including Big Ten students, alumni, fans and viewers across the country. Unfortunately, DISH isn't interested in a fair deal, and they continued to insist on preferential treatment by demanding better terms than our agreements with their competitors."
The network also posted on its website that "BTN's proposals were entirely reasonable and in line with the BTN agreements already secured with other distributors within the marketplace."
Along with Belton and Day, left tackle Donovan Smith (ankle) and defensive end Pete Massaro (shoulder) missed the game. O'Brien said Smith should be ready next week and added that all the injured players are day to day. Massaro missed last season with a knee injury and has had some issues this year, as well, and O'Brien said he will be penciled in as day to day pretty much all season.
Navy player has local ties
Midshipmen backup nose tackle Bernie Sarra is the great nephew of longtime Nittany Lion assistant coach Joe Sarra, who passed away before the season.
The younger Sarra's connection to central Pennsylvania doesn't end there, though. Current Northern Cambria High School standout linebacker Alex Atkins is his cousin, as is former Colt player Anthony Atkins.
Sarra also was part of the Greensburg Central Catholic football team that stopped Bedford's Cinderella run in the PIAA Class AA semifinals in 2009 at Windber Stadium.
Two other Navy reserves have close relationships with Penn State. Sophomore fullback Maika Polamalu is the son of Al Pola, a starting defensive tackle on the Lions' 1986 national championship team; Polamalu also was linked with Penn State coming out of high school but never received a scholarship offer. Guard Matt Couch's father, Tom, played at Penn State in the early 1980s.
Polamalu was the only player of the three to see action, getting a carry for 3 yards late in the game.
Recruits at the game
Originally expected to be a bigger recruiting weekend, only a handful of prospects were in attendance.
Once again, Cedar Cliff tight end Adam Breneman, already committed to the Lions, headed the list. Another player who has already pledged to Penn State, Hershey offensive lineman Andrew Nelson, was there, as well.
Probably the biggest uncommitted player was Omar Truitt, a junior defensive back from Washington, D.C. Clearfield junior athlete Christian Lezzer also was on hand.
News and notes
Penn State's game captains were FB P.J. Byers, a Navy diving specialist, C Matt Stankiewitch and DE Sean Stanley. ... Byers carried the American flag running onto the field with his teammates out of the tunnel before the game. On Military Appreciation Day, Byers and DE Brent Smith, a former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, were honored on the field during the second half. Neither played in the game. ... Once highly touted recruit Eric Shrive got in at RT on PSU's third offensive series, but on his first play he was called for a personal foul and was immediately lifted. ... TE Garry Gilliam made his first catch of the season, and his first in two years as he missed all of 2011 with a knee injury.
- Compiled by Cory Giger and Philip Cmor