Social media has a way of bringing out the worst in some people, and Penn State kicker Sam Ficken has been a target of numerous vicious comments since missing four field goals and an extra point in Saturday's 17-16 loss at Virginia.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous," PSU coach Bill O'Brien said of the verbal attacks aimed at Ficken on the Internet. "Not just because it's a 19-year-old college kid, it's just because, I mean, it's anonymous in some ways, and in other ways it's not."
One especially mean Twitter comment under the #samficken hashtag suggested for the kicker that "there are lots of mountains he can choose from to jump off of upon his return to un-happy Valley."
O'Brien had a tough time with the names of two social media sites, but his message to some of the commenters was clear.
"[The players] are really playing hard, giving great effort for us," the coach said. "To go on whatever, spacebook or tweeter, or whatever and put stuff on there is just absolutely ridiculous to me and very cowardly. ... I just don't know what type of people do that."
Ficken's rough Saturday ended with him missing a 42-yard field goal on the game's final play. He also missed from 40, 38 and 20 yards, had an extra point block and made one kick from 32 yards.
"I think it's unfortunate for him to be taking so much scrutiny as a 19-year-old," receiver Allen Robinson said.
His teammates spent the past few days helping the kicker keep his spirits up.
"Nobody's down on Ficken," cornerback Adrian Amos said.
"Ficken knows that he's a better player than that," said Robinson, who also added, "Ficken had a bad day. We definitely have faith in Ficken."
Despite his struggles, Ficken remains Penn State's best option. The sophomore, who is on scholarship, remains the only place-kicker listed on the depth chart.
There is a kicking competition each week, and the coaches keep track of every aspect for each player, such as accuracy and percentages during practice.
"Sam, obviously, he's got to do better in his technique, and he's really working on it," O'Brien said. "I mean, he must have kicked 300 kicks yesterday in practice, so he's really working on it, and he takes a lot of pride in it."
The coach, who later added the 300 kicks was an exaggerated number, praised Ficken for being a great kid who's bright and calm and has great perspective. O'Brien also refused to place all the blame on his kicker, especially since the offense had plenty of problems of its own.
"We can't take four turnovers from our defense and come away with only three points." the coach said. "That's ridiculous, and we all know that."
O'Brien continues to say he's not worried about the depth at running back, even though his two top threats are questionable for this week.
Starter Bill Belton missed the Virginia game with an ankle injury, while backup Derek Day, who got the start, injured his left shoulder.
"Not sure if they're going to be able to play," O'Brien said of those two.
If not, Zach Zwinak and Curtis Dukes will be the primary tailbacks, and the coach added that fullback Michael Zordich also might be more involved in the running game.
O'Brien again reiterated his stance that he'd like to redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch. He called Lynch a "very, very good player" and added, "If he's got to play, he knows he'll be ready to play."
Quarterback Matt McGloin did not throw in practice Monday as O'Brien let him rest his right elbow that was injured in the first half at Virginia.
"He looks all right to me," O'Brien said. "He's a tough kid."
Left tackle Donovan Smith is day to day after "some bumps and bruises," O'Brien said. Smith has missed time in the first two games with leg injuries.
Defensive end Pete Massaro also is questionable after suffering a shoulder injury at Virginia.
"I'm a little banged up right now," Massaro said.
Linebacker Nyeem Wartman has a knee injury and, like Belton, Day and Massaro, is listed as possible on PSU's injury report.
Owning up to it
Penn State's secondary continues to be a concern after two weeks, and Amos even admitted the unit hasn't played well enough to escape criticism.
"No, I don't think we have done enough," he said. "I think we can make a lot more plays. We just have to start capitalizing and playing better."
Robinson put up big numbers with 10 catches for 89 yards and a TD, but he also dropped passes on two consecutive plays at one point and wasn't able to hold onto a TD catch late in the first half.
"I definitely think that's a pass I should have caught," Robinson said before later adding, "I was kind of down. I had a couple drops on Saturday, so my teammates tried to pick me up."