From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 22nd-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers face their stiffest challenge of the season, as they invade Baton Rouge this weekend to tangle with the 15th-ranked LSU Tigers.
At 3-0, the Mountaineers have passed all their early season tests and they are now out to prove they are worthy of an even higher ranking. Last weekend, WVU got the job done at home, scoring the first 28 points en route to a 31-17 triumph of Maryland.
"I was pleased with how we finished the fourth quarter," said coach Bill Stewart, who turned to the ground game to complete the solid performance.
The victory was much more convincing than the prior week, when WVU used a late rally to squeak by Marshall, 24-21, in overtime. That marked the team's lone road game up to this point, so WVU will need to come out better prepared in a much more hostile environment this weekend if the team is to have any shot.
As for the Tigers, they kicked off a three-game homestand last weekend with a solid 29-7 victory over Mississippi State.
"This is a young football team and a team, in my opinion, that if they continue to put their nose to the grindstone and fight like hell, they have a very, very good upside," stated head coach Les Miles. "I think that our team beyond this game certainly understands there is a lot to accomplish."
LSU extended its winning streak over Mississippi State to 11 games, as it improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. This is the second game versus a ranked opponent for the Tigers, who held off a depleted and 18th-ranked North Carolina squad in the opener.
This game represents the first-ever meeting between LSU and WVU on the gridiron.
Quarterback Geno Smith has yet to be rattled this season and has played like a veteran, completing 70.3 percent of his tosses with seven TDs against just one INT. The sophomore gunslinger was especially impressive last weekend, when he hit on 19-of-29 tosses for 268 yards and four TDs in the win over Maryland. If WVU is to come out on top, Smith will need to be at his best against one of the stingiest defenses in the nation.
At Smith's disposal are several weapons, including wideouts Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders. Austin, a converted RB, leads the team with 21 receptions for 281 yards and two scores, while Sanders, a proven playmaker, ranks second with 19 catches for 214 yards. The duo had their way with Maryland last weekend, accounting for 13 catches, 192 receiving yards and two TDs from Austin.
Tailback Noel Devin also enjoyed a nice game last weekend, as he rushed for 131 yards on 27 carries. He has now gone over the century mark in each game this season and the speedy back is averaging 118.0 rushing ypg during that stretch.
The Mountaineer defense dominated for most of the game last weekend, aside from two long plays that accounted for 140 yards and both of Maryland's TDs. WVU allowed just 77 total yards besides the pair of long passes, while holding Maryland to a miserable 2-of-13 effort on third downs. WVU has been especially effective on third downs this season, allowing opponents to convert just 22 percent of the time.
The defense continues to shine against the run as well and is holding foes to just 62.8 ypg on the ground this season. Furthermore, the unit has yet to surrender a rushing TD. The pass rush also came to life last game, as WVU recorded eight sacks after being held off the board the first two games. DE Bruce Irvin, a JC transfer, finally made his presence felt, recording three sacks and forcing a fumble in last weekend's win.
LSU may have controlled last game, but the offense was by no means impressive, managing just 264 total yards. The Tigers benefited from great field position thanks to the defense, but settled most of the time for field goals, with Josh Jasper connecting on all five of his attempts to break his own school record.
The problem for the Tigers comes at QB, where they have yet to get any real solid play from Jordan Jefferson, who has completed just 57.9 percent of his tosses for only 344 yards and two TDs this season. Jefferson threw for just 97 yards last weekend, but did have 40 rushing yards and a TD to earn a little complement from coach Miles.
"I felt like the quarterback play was better and felt like it will continue to be better."
The Tigers, who are averaging 203.0 rushing ypg on the season, churned out 167 yards and two scores on the ground versus Mississippi State. Stevan Ridley headed the charge with 78 yards and a score on 19 carries, giving him a team- high 318 rushing yards for the season.
On the defensive side of the ball is where the Tigers have been able to dominate and they were on top of their game last weekend. The unit not only limited Mississippi State to just 268 total yards, but the group also came up with five INTs. That is the most for LSU since picking off six passes in against Mississippi State in '07.
Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne had two each for the Tigers, who entered the game without a single INT. The secondary came up with the big plays last weekend, but the run defense has been the strength for LSU. After three games, the Tigers are allowing just 80.3 ypg on the ground and opponents are averaging just 2.2 yards carry. Kelvin Sheppard leads the defense with 27 stops, while Drake Nevis has accounted for 3.5 of the team's 11 sacks.