Another player, starting wide receiver Shawney Kersey, left the team Tuesday (though not school) for personal reasons.
So what's possible now, for a team that lugs an 0-2 record into its next-to-last non-conference game? That lost an eminently winnable game by a single point last Saturday at Virginia by converting four takeaways -- takeaways that all came deep within Cavaliers territory -- into just three points? That saw the red-zone offense and kicker struggle? That saw the defense give up a third-and-16 with the game hanging in the balance?
Quarterback Matt McGloin insisted during a conference call with reporters Wednesday that morale remains high, that the players are “right where we've always been.”
“Unfortunately we're 0-2,” he added, “but at the same time nothing's changed. … We're still playing as hard as we can. We're still preparing as hard as we can. We have a lot of fight left. We've overcome so much in the past that starting off 0-2 really doesn't affect us. We're not worried about it at all.”
McGloin missed some time against Virginia with an elbow injury, and coach Bill O'Brien said during his weekly conference call Tuesday that McGloin was unable to throw during practice the day before. But McGloin said he “participated in everything” and “threw a ton of balls” Tuesday. He appeared to be fine during the portion of Wednesday's practice that was open to the media.
O'Brien also said Tuesday that Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (shoulder), the respective starters in the first two games at tailback, are day to day with their injuries, and expressed confidence in Curtis Dukes and Zach Zwinak, while also saying fullback Michael Zordich would likely get more touches.
“We've got a lot of depth there,” O'Brien said.
McGloin seemed particularly impressed with the way Dukes has emerged, saying, “He's The Man right now.” While Dukes did not carry the ball in the opener against Ohio, he had 30 yards on 10 carries against Virginia. But the Lions as a team have rushed for 213 yards on 64 carries to date (3.3 yards per carry), leaving them 100th among the 120 teams in the FBS.
“That's just the first two games,” center Matt Stankiewitch said. “We have a whole season to go. Hopefully we can change that number.”
“I wouldn't even say our running game is struggling,” McGloin said. “It's just we haven't been able to break any runs yet. When that happens, it will definitely be a good day for us. Our line's been doing a great job, our backs are running very hard. … They just have to stay patient and keep doing what they're doing and then we'll be fine.”
McGloin said it was “a little bit of surprise” to him that Kersey elected to leave the team, after catching six passes in the first two games.
“It's definitely another tough loss for us, but Shawney had his reasons,” McGloin said. “I wish him the best of luck in whatever he does. At the same time we still have a game to play.”
He believes Kersey's potential replacements -- Brandon Moseby-Felder, Matt Zanellato, Eugene Lewis and Trevor Williams -- can do the job, though they have not caught a single pass between them to date.
“It's tough for a team to lose any member,” Stankiewitch said. “But we have great athletes. We have many great athletes. It's an opportunity for somebody else to step up -- step up and fill those shoes, and show your worth.”
Neither McGloin nor Stankiewitch offered any concrete solutions to the red-zone issues, after a game in which the Lions were saddled with 14 yards' worth of losses after taking over at the Virginia 17, 19, 29 and 17 following turnovers.
Nor does anyone know how sophomore kicker Sam Ficken might fare going forward. He missed four of five field-goal attempts against the Cavaliers, and had an extra point blocked. O'Brien said the staff has been tinkering with Ficken's plant foot, the reasoning being that the ball tends to go in the direction that foot is pointed.
For the team as a whole, O'Brien has stressed the importance of looking forward, not backward. And that's what everybody's trying to do.
“What's in the past, you can't change that,” Stankiewitch said. “What we can change is the future.”
That starts, McGloin said, on the practice field, where the older guys are trying to set a tone for everyone else.
“We started off 0-2, but there's still 10 games left,” he said. “(The younger players) have to understand that it's a long season, and things will happen. We've been doing some good things, but we need to put it all together. We're just coming to practice each and every day and we're working harder than ever, to try to show those guys that this is how Penn State plays.”