Sat 9/25/10 9:00 PM
Baton Rouge, LA
Coaches' Poll: 21
Maryland W 31-17
Coaches' Poll: 12
Miss St W 29-7
Series: First Meeting
First Meeting: 2010
Last Meeting: 2010
WVU – DE Will Clarke (Ankle), Questionable; LB Pat Lazear, (Probable) Knee; TE Tyler Urban, (Questionable) Knee; Branko Busick, (Questionable) Hand; CB Brandon Hogan (Suspension), Possible; OL Josh Jenkins (Doubtful), Knee.
LSU – RB Richard Murphy (Hamstring), Questionable; WR Chris Tolliver (Concussion), Questionable; TE Deangelo Peterson (Ankle) Questionable; G Chris Blackwell (Ankle), Out For Season; G T-Bob Herbert (Suspension), Possible.
WVU Offense vs. LSU defense
West Virginia's aerial offense clicked against Maryland, as quarterback Geno Smith threw for 268 yards and four scores. The Maryland staff alleged that blown coverage (a player twice rushed when he should have dropped) led to a pair of the touchdowns, but even with that, WVU consistently moved the ball most of the first half and in key situations in latter game portions. The Terps don't possess as much rush end talent as LSU, though, and the Tigers should get solid outside pressure and force Smith into quicker decisions – especially as the loss of Josh Jenkins adds another line question for the Mountaineers.
The main worry is tackle Lazarius Levingston (6-4, 280 lbs.), who teams with Drake Nevis (6-2, 285 lbs.) to form a solid senior corps on the interior. End Sam Montgomery had a pair of sacks against North Carolina, helping the Tigers to an average of four sacks and nine-plus tackles for loss per game. That negative yardage has helped LSU hold teams to 80 net rush yards per game, and the lack of a run game has in turn forced foes to pass.
UNC was effective against the LSU rush, keeping heat off the pocket and throwing for 412 yards as it tried to come back. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, however, managed just 93 average yards passing even with the run stuffed.
West Virginia can expect to be somewhere in the middle of those numbers. The Mountaineers average a Big East-best 266.7 pass yards per game and have the speed and athletes to get open and operate in space, even against the Tigers' speed. The key is to throw when and where it is desired, and not get into second and third and longs, which allow LSU to turn loose its speed rush.
WVU must keep the downs and distances manageable and use the entire field if possible. UNC was able to do much of that, even shying away from all-SEC cornerback Patrick Peterson by using some tight end plays down the middle. Mississippi State tested the 6-2, 222-pounder, and the junior intercepted two passes. An NFL-type talent, Peterson can play on an island well and take away a team's best receiver. It remains to be seen if he can shut off half a field, especially when WVU is getting the ball out quickly to its slot receivers or sending players down defensive seams. If he can, the Mountaineers are likely in for a difficult test if Noel Devine gets bottled.
That leads to the running game. This is the Tigers' specialty, as their 4-3 is built to corral the run and force teams to the air. West Virginia has, thus far, been more effective pass blocking than run blocking. The Mountaineers need to get Noel Devine moving early, even if it means a bit of misdirection. The back could need some help, as it will be unlikely that West Virginia can match LSU's front seven with its five lineman and tight ends/fullbacks.
The spread offense will create some lanes, and Devine and Ryan Clarke must hit holes quickly and get going north and south to pick up as much yardage as possible. If Clarke runs like he did against Maryland, he should be fine. If he dances again like at Marshall, LSU will swarm him. LSU has seen his type of player, and can match most of that. What the Tiger's haven't seen much of is a back with the cut-and-go ability of Devine. And because it will be the first time LSU has seen him, expect a slight adjustment phase as the Tigers try to locate, then bring down a strong, fast and quick player.
Arguably the best match-up between sides will be senior LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard versus Devine. The team leader in tackles last season, Sheppard already has 27 stops this season with 3.5 tackles for loss. He snuffs out plays well and always seems to be around the ball. Can West Virginia get enough of a block on the linebackers to spring Devine? Can the back hide enough, then explode through the holes? Or will the push up front stop running plays before they develop?
If the Mountaineers can block adequately for Devine to have some time, the ground game should be enough to where WVU can utilize its pass in desired circumstances. If the line can't, and the Mountaineers must throw much of the game as LSU dictates, it will be tough to rack up points. LSU gets an edge in the run game, West Virginia in the pass.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 28.7 ppg||Scoring Defense 11.3 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 179.3 ypg||Rushing Defense 80.3 ypg|
|Passing Offense 266.7 ypg||Passing Defense 199.3 ypg|
WVU Defense vs. LSU Offense
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson has been mediocre through the first three outings, and the coaching staff is relying more heavily on a decent ground game – playing right to the strength of the odd stack defense. Jefferson, a junior, is still not progressing through his reads and finding wideouts as effectively as one might expect. He completed 15 of 21 passes against North Carolina, then went 10-of-16 for 97 yards two games later in a win over Mississippi St. Most of those completions came on very safe, sure routes, and because LSU was able to run, that worked. But combine Jefferson's inability to quickly pick up coverages and select proper options with a 3-3-5 defense rarely seen, and one can't likely see LSU's signalcaller playing much better in this game. He holds the ball too long, which should enable WVU to get pressure on him from a variety of angles. That leads to bad or ill-advised throws or sacks, which can quickly negate the passing game and force the ball into the hands of Stevan Ridley and Russell Shepard.
Ridley, 6-0, 226 lbs., mixes power and speed and has rushed for an average of 106 yards per game. Shepard is a smaller back who sometimes carries out of the Wildcat formation. He is hitting for 7.5 yards per carry, with far more limited looks. The issue for LSU is its line play. The 2009 unit was among the worst in recent school history, and much like WVU, experience has made them better – the question is by how much. West Virginia stuffs the run well and gets multiple players to the ball in a hurry. LSU might try to line up and pound, and should have more success than did Maryland, but any gashing of the odd stack would be a bit surprising.
The Mountaineers must contain the run, eliminate big plays, and make Jefferson and the passing game piece together drives to win. That will be difficult. What won't be is using an open seam for a long touchdown run, or having a wideout simply sprint past the secondary for a score. WVU must cover more effectively on deep balls than it did last week, and try to keep 6-3 Reuben Randall and 6-5 Terrence Tolliver (questionable with a concussion) in front of them to limit yardage on catches. Tackling will be a key in this game, especially when Shepard gets into space – as he is likely to do when lined up as a slot receiver. WVU's goals will be to bottle the run, attack the pocket and keep receivers in front. That should eliminate most big plays and make an average LSU offense put together drives. Then, usually, come the mistakes and miscues that end possessions.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 12.7 ppg||Scoring Offense 28.7 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 62.7 ypg||Rushing Offense 203 ypg|
|Passing Defense 193 ypg||Passing Offense 120 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. LSU Special Teams
West Virginia has been solid here for the most part. Aside from the unfielded punts and poor blocking on the winning field goal at Marshall, the Mountaineers have pieced together all sections and managed to avoid a big return while getting one of their own for a key play versus Maryland.
WVU will face its biggest test of the season this weekend in Peterson. Among the best return men in the country, Peterson averaged 36.7 yards on seven punt and kickoff returns against North Carolina before Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. contained him. WVU must do the same. Look for the Mountaineers to place punts out of bounds to keep the ball out of Peterson's hands. It can't, unfortunately, do so on kickoffs, and thus must cover well. That's hard to do against LSU's speed and skill. All else being the same (good field goal kickers, solid punters, decent coverage), Peterson is a game changer and gives the Tigers an edge in this category.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 40.7 yards||Net Punting 36.3 yards|
|KO Returns 19.4 yards per return||KO Returns 28.1 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 15.8 yards per return||Punt Returns 21.6 yards per return|
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Geno Smith.
On Defense: Greg Pugnetti, Chris Neild.
I expect West Virginia's defense to play well here. What I'm unsure about is its offensive line, sans a starter, facing a beefy, athletic defensive front. WVU can't play power football as well as it did against Maryland, and it might not be able to give Geno Smith as much time as he needs pending down and distance. LSU, conversely, won't shred the Mountaineer secondary as long as the odd stack can bring decent pressure from varying angles and corner Brandon Hogan returns.
West Virginia can match the Louisiana State in skill position ability in most areas. And it has some game breakers of its own. But with an average line in a night game in front of 92,000-plus, WVU will be pressed to win. Every mistake (i.e. turnovers) is magnified, and though this isn't the 2007 Tigers (or Mountaineers), the safe bet here is with the home team.
LSU - 21 WVU - 19