By Tim Owen
For The Daily Item
UNIVERSITY PARK -- After his 1-for-5 field goal performance in the loss against Virginia, a variety of threatening comments were directed toward sophomore kicker Sam Ficken on social media websites Facebook and Twitter. Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien took special exception to those messages.
"To go on space book or tweeter, or whatever it is, and put stuff on there is just absolutely ridiculous to me and very cowardly, to be honest with you," O'Brien said. "But that's just my opinion."
UP NEXT: Since the Virginia loss, O'Brien has stood by his kicker, saying "the kicking job is open every week and Sam's won the job every week."
More participants could join the weekly competition, though, as kicking tryouts are scheduled for Sept. 19. The tryouts have been scheduled since the summer and are not in response to the recent struggles in the kicking game.
Danville graduate Dylan Friday said he expects to tryout next Wednesday. Friday, a freshman at Penn State, played soccer for Danville, but he also kicked for the football team, kicking five field goals, including a career-best 42-yarder. He also booted a pair of 41-yarders in the District Four All-Star Game this summer.
SLOW START: O'Brien hadn't envisioned his head coaching career beginning like this: with two straight losses, a shallow roster holed from off-season transfers, mounting injuries and a scoring-deficient special teams unit.
But as O'Brien sat at the podium in the Beaver Stadium press room Tuesday afternoon — just over two weeks into his first season as Penn State's head coach — that's exactly the hand that he had been dealt.
After falling to Ohio in the season-opener, the Nittany Lions lost on the road to Virginia last Saturday. In both games combined Penn State allowed 18 of 21 third-down conversions in the second half and a score differential of 35-9 in the last two quarters.
With Navy set to come to town Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Beaver Stadium, O'Brien is hoping to iron out the deficiencies that have plagued his team during the first two games.
"They executed their third down plays better than we executed our third down defense," O'Brien said at his weekly news conference. "We make adjustments at half time just like all the other teams."
This week O'Brien and his staff are making another adjustment. This time they're adjusting for the Midshipmen's time-honored option offense, which is comprised of a confusing combination of two running backs, a full back and a quarterback whose running ability often outmatches his passing ability.
"Navy is so good at what they do," O'Brien added. "They're attacking your discipline, and they're attacking your toughness. Now, we've got a tough defense. In my opinion, we have a tough football team, but what we've got to do defensively is we've got to play responsibility football."
Ken Niumatalolo, Navy's head coach, sees the matchup a bit differently than his counterpart.
"We have to play perfect to have a chance [of winning,]" he said, "and for us to have a chance, Penn State has to be slightly off for us to even have a chance."
INJURIES ON THE RISE: Injuries to Penn State's running backs are mounting. Bill Belton, who injured his ankle against Ohio and didn't travel to Virginia, is likely to sit out again Saturday. Though O'Brien said Belton's playing status is "day-to-day", Belton could miss an additional week or more.
Derek Day, a senior who started in place of Belton, suffered a shoulder injury against Virginia. His injury doesn't appear to be severe, but it is likely he, too, will be unavailable for Navy.
"Those guys are day to day, so I'm not sure if they're going to be able to play," O'Brien said. "So it'll be (Curtis) Dukes (as the starter). You'll probably, again, see (Zach) Zwinak in there. They are two big guys, and you may even see Michael Zordich do some things there."
ON THE MOVE: O'Brien is testing Paul Jones, a former five-star quarterback recruit, at a new position on offense. Though he is still listed as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, Jones is also practicing at the F tight end spot and is expected to see action at his new position against Navy.
"The F position is not really a true tight end," O'Brien explained. "It's somebody that can play out wide as a wide receiver. It's somebody that can play in a wing position in the formation. It's somebody that's a move guy, somebody that can line up in the back field. And Paul came out yesterday and played that position
"He's also still a quarterback. So we're asking him to do a lot of different things. He's got a package of plays at quarterback, so if we needed him, he can do that, too. We're just trying to get our best players on the field, and he's certainly a guy that we've got to play. It's on me to get him into the game."