RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
Sam Ficken, Mr. Reliable. Seriously.
The Penn State kicker whom some Nittany Lions fans wanted to run out of Happy Valley last year has made 13 straight field goal attempts after starting the season by going 3 for 3 in a win against Syracuse.
"I couldn't be more confident in my ability," Ficken said Saturday after the Nittany Lions won 23-17 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Ficken, you might recall, had just about the worst game a kicker could have in Week 2 of the 2012 season. He missed four field goal attempts and had an extra point blocked against Virginia in a 17-16 loss.
Many on social media were less than sympathetic, even downright nasty to Ficken, who had been pressed into action after Penn State's starting kicker transferred after the NCAA sanctioned the programs.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien stuck with Ficken -- he didn't have much choice -- and the kicker closed the season with 10 straight made field goals.
"I think that game (vs. Virginia) probably made me a better kicker," Ficken said. "It obviously didn't go the way I wanted it to go, but looking back at that, I probably wouldn't have worked on my fundamentals as much as I have. On my envisioning kicking in the game."
Ficken booted through kicks of 36, 35 and a career-best 46-yarder early in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
O'Brien said he singled out Ficken during his postgame, locker room speech.
"Congratulations, Sam Ficken," O'Brien said during his postgame news conference. "He should be very proud."
Ficken sought out advice from former Penn State player and current Bears kicker Robbie Gould.
"He really taught me how to practice," Ficken said. "That's really helped carry over into games. My goal is to not miss a kick all season. That might not happen, but to the best of my ability I'm going to do the job I need to do. I think I can make every kick coach O'Brien sends me out for."
Ficken is probably not on his way to a perfect season. His second made kick was a low line drive.
"It wasn't the best kick in the world; I'll be the first to admit that," he said. "But it went in and it's three points, right?"
As for getting the praise from his coach after the game, "It means a lot, coming from where I came from with the rough start last year," Ficken said. "For him to give me a shoutout in front of the team, that's pretty important to me. It feels good. It boosts my confidence even a little bit more."
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