2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 4 - LSU at West Virginia
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Sept. 24 LSU 47 … at West Virginia 21
CFN Analysis: LSU might have given up a ton of passing yards and it might have let West Virginia make it interesting for a stretch, but just when things got relatively close, the big plays came to flex the muscle needed. From the Morris Claiborne kickoff return for a score, to the 20 unanswered points, to the lack of turnovers and key penalties, this was a very strong, very tight game under the circumstances. The tackling could've been better and much will be made about allowing 463 passing yards, but LSU was in control the whole way. Overconfidence might be a problem down the road, but for this win, it turned out to be a positive.
West Virginia's passing game worked, but there were too many mistakes and too many miscues to beat a team as good as LSU. While outgaining the Tigers 533 to 366 will look nice on the stat sheet, the ten penalties, four turnovers, and key breakdowns on special teams and in the secondary will be what haunts the team going forward. On the plus side, the passing game worked against a defense playing at the highest of levels, and it nothing else, this game should be confidence-builder for the rest of the season. There's no one else on the schedule that can handle this offense.
(AP) MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- LSU's opportunistic defense overcame a record performance from West Virginia's Geno Smith, and the Tigers made their case to replace Oklahoma as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Jarrett Lee had another solid performance with three touchdown passes, Michael Ford ran for two scores and LSU beat No. 16 West Virginia 47-21 Saturday night.
Now it's up to the voters to decide whether LSU deserves to move ahead of No. 1 Oklahoma, which came from 11 points down to beat Missouri 38-28 Saturday night.
LSU coach Les Miles doesn't believe the Tigers are there yet.
"I like the position we're in, but I don't think we're the best team in college football today," Miles said. "I think there is a hope and want and desire to be there. I don't know if we're good enough right now to do everything we want to do. That's putting the cart before the horse."
The Tigers (4-0) converted two of the four turnovers they created into scores, built a big early lead and withstood West Virginia's strong comeback for its third win over a ranked opponent this season, with all of three coming away from home. Every win so far has been by double digits.
West Virginia (3-1) outgained LSU 533-366. Smith set school records for completions (38), attempts (65) and passing yards (463). But he was intercepted twice after throwing one in the previous three games.
And for the second straight year, the Mountaineers (3-1) couldn't overcome a double-digit halftime deficit to the Tigers.
"We got down early and we came out in the second half and fought to the end," Smith said. "We learned that if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, we can pretty much play with anybody."
Lee wasn't too shabby, either. His three TD passes tied a career high and matched his output of the three previous games. He finished 16 of 28 for 180 yards.
"Jarrett Lee played a good game," West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin said. "He managed the game well and he got their guys calm when we started to make a little run. He kept them together as a good quarterback does."
West Virginia couldn't pad its resume with a win over a Southeastern Conference opponent at a time when there's been speculation the SEC might be interested in the Mountaineers as a 14th school. Texas A&M is set become the 13th member when it leaves the Big 12 next season.
West Virginia hadn't given up this many points at home since a 46-44 triple-overtime win over Louisville in 2005.
Pinned deep by superb punting from Brad Wing, who averaged 49 yards on six kicks, West Virginia time after time stared at needing to drive the length of the field. The Mountaineers started six possessions inside their 15.
West Virginia hoped to get off to a fast start, but for the third time this season, that didn't happen.
LSU jumped ahead to stay with the help of two first-quarter turnovers and consistently won the battle of field position.
"They gave us some short fields early," Miles said. "We threw some balls and completed some balls because they were packing the line, and got off to a nice start."
Just before halftime, Tyrann Mathieu batted a pass into the air, caught it at the West Virginia 17 and ran to the 1. Lee found Chase Clement in the end zone two plays later to put the Tigers ahead 27-7. Lee also had first-half scoring tosses of 11 yards to Rueben Randle and 52 yards to Odell Beckham.
LSU missed a field goal and punted twice on its first three possessions after halftime, giving West Virginia a chance to close the gap.
Smith found tight end Tyler Urban from 12 yards out to cap an 80-yard drive on West Virginia's first possession of the third quarter, then found Austin on a 72-yard pass play on the next series to set up Dustin Garrison's 1-yard run to cut the deficit to 27-21 late in the third.
But Morris Claiborne returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, breaking two tackles along the way, to put LSU ahead by double digits to stay.
Spencer Ware ran for 92 yards on 23 carries. Ford had 82 yards, including TD runs of 22 and 15 yards.
Smith broke Mark Bulger's school records of 34 completions and 429 passing yards set against Missouri in the 1998 Insight.com Bowl. Gerald Fisher held the previous mark of 57 pass attempts against Maryland in 1951.
Austin caught 11 passes for 187 yards for the Mountaineers.
LSU (3-0) at West Virginia (3-0) Sept. 24, 8:00, ABC
Here's The Deal … Sometimes a program just needs a big win.
The 2011 college football season has been terrific so far with several great games and heart-stopping performances, but the on-the-field fun has been blown away by the earthquake happening among the conferences with the realignment and expansion news changing by the hour. For West Virginia, it's limbo time as Syracuse and Pitt go off to the ACC and the Big East is left trying to figure out what's next.
The Mountaineers might be feeling a bit left out, with the program not even being a rumor to move anywhere, and now it's left to take on an us-against-the-world attitude both on and off the field. On it, a win over LSU would suddenly put the BCS Championship in play and would catapult first year head coach Dana Holgorsen into stardom. This will be the hot team next week if it can get the job done on primetime national television with the whole sports world watching.
But LSU is the hot team right now.
The Tigers not only manhandled Oregon to all but end the Pac-12's relevance for the season, but they showed last week against a tough and explosive Mississippi State team that getting tough and nasty isn't a problem.
They've been brutish on the lines, mistake free in key situations, and dominant defensively with the look of a national champion. It could be argued that no one has two stronger or more impressive wins than the victories over the Ducks and Bulldogs, and both were away from Death Valley. Now it's time to walk into another hostile environment against a desperate team trying to make a statement with the season all but on the line. Of course West Virginia wants to win the Big East title and go to a BCS game, but this is it. This is the chance at respectability, and this, in every sense of the concept considering the goofy college football post-season, is a playoff game.
Last year, West Virginia was 3-0 with a dominant defense and strong offense going into the date at LSU. The game was there for the taking with Tiger quarterback Jordan Jefferson throwing two picks and LSU committing 12 penalties, but the Mountaineers turned it over two times, failed to get the running game moving, and stalled in the fourth quarter of a tough 20-14 loss. This year's team is more explosive under Holgorsen, but this year's LSU squad is far better, too.
It's not exactly smooth sailing for West Virginia after this, but the toughest remaining road game is the regular season ender at South Florida. While Pitt is solid and the trip to Cincinnati will be a test, a win over LSU will mean it'll take a major upset to get by the Mountaineers over the last eight games.
The Tigers into the SEC season with home games against Kentucky and Florida, and while going to Tennessee will be a fight, after already beating Mississippi State, if they can hold serve at home the showdown at Alabama might be all that stands in the way of a trip down the road to New Orleans in January.
No matter what happens, a major statement will be made on Saturday night, and the national championship race will become a little bit clearer.
Why LSU Might Win: The run defense is playing at a whole other level, and the Mountaineers don't have the lines to hold up.
The days of the Rich Rodriguez offense with Pat White and Steve Slaton running wild are over. While Holgorsen made a point of getting the ground game going when he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, he hasn't gotten much of anything so far from a running attack that's averaging a miserable 79 yards per game and can't seem to find any sort of a groove. The offensive line is full of veterans and has enough talent to be better, but it's not blowing anyone off the ball so far.
LSU's run defense isn't just playing at a high level; it's taking away team's manhood. Oregon's running attack is among the most explosive in the nation, but it was stuffed for just 95 yards. Mississippi State's ground game ripped up Auburn for 333 yards and two touchdowns, but it was held to 52 yards as the offense held on to the ball for just over 22 minutes. West Virginia isn't going to be able to run the ball a lick on the nation's No. 3 run defense, meaning it'll be bombs away against a secondary that's playing at a national title level with four picks in three games while allowing just 480 yards and one scoring pass.
Why West Virginia Might Win: The return game has to be phenomenal.
LSU's coverage teams have been special so far, forcing minus yards overall on punt returns and not allowing a thing on kickoff returns. West Virginia, though, has gotten explosive performances out of Tavon Austin, who not only caught 11 passes for 122 yards against Maryland last week, but is fourth in the nation averaging 22 yards per punt return and is 16th in kickoff returns averaging 29.44 yards per try. If the Mountaineers are going to have any shot, they're going to need something special like a big return or a big defensive play. They're also going to need to bomb away.
Even with Patrick Peterson now on the Arizona Cardinals, the Tiger secondary has been dominant. However, while Oregon's Darron Thomas and Mississippi State's Chris Relf are terrific quarterbacks, they're not the passers that Geno Smith is. The junior was kept under wraps in last year's game, completing 14-of-29 passes for 119 yards and two scores with a pick, but he has been on fire to start 2011 with 1,008 passing yards with seven touchdowns and just one pick. He's warming up to the Holgorsen attack, and while he's not going to throw for 388 yards like he did last week against Maryland, he and the offense can explode at any time. It's a streaky offense, but it also can put up points in bunches.
What To Watch Out For: What happened to the West Virginia pass rush? Last year the Mountaineers finished second in the nation behind Boise State with 45 sacks while finishing second in run defense and fourth in total defense. Bruce Irvin finished second in the nation behind Da'Quan Bowers in sacks with 14, while Julian Miller added 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks. So far this year Irvin has just one sack, and it's the team's only one in the first three games, while Miller has just two assisted tackles for loss.
That's not going to work.
LSU's offensive line has been stellar so far, but it hasn't been a brick wall in pass protection. Tiger quarterback Jarrett Lee has kept the big mistakes to a minimum, mostly because he hasn't been under a ton of pressure and hasn't had to press. That has to change this week as the Mountaineers have to dial up the pass rush and have to be in the backfield all game long.
Lee gets back one of his star weapons with Russell Shepard returning after serving a three game suspension for his issues with the NCAA. He's been more hype than production so far after being one of the nation's top recruits in 2009, but he's a weapon who can be a major factor both as a runner and a receiver. As good as LSU has been, the offense has fed off the defense and hasn't put up a ton of yards. Shepard needs to change that.
What Will Happen: LSU's defense will dominate. West Virginia's defense will pick up its production a bit and will pick off Lee three times, but the Mountaineer O won't be able to take advantage. The LSU secondary is playing with swagger, confident, and with a major attitude, and it's too fast and too good for Austin and the WVU playmakers. It'll be a slugfest for a while, and then the Tigers will pull away in the second half with the ground game taking control.
CFN Prediction: LSU 27 … West Virginia 13
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