MSN radio sideline reporter Jed Drenning is providing periodic commentary on the Mountaineer football program for MSNsportsNET.com. You can also read more about Mountaineer football at Jed’s web site http://thesignalcaller.com. You can also follow Jed on Twitter: @TheSignalCaller“David put his hand in the bag, and took there a stone and slung it. And struck the Philistine on the head, and he fell to the ground.”
By Jed Drenning for WVUsports.com
September 23, 2011 04:44 PM
Upsets in college football are more abundant than ever these days. They don’t happen by accident - they’re manufactured. As such, I have to ask one question ... What’s with all the anxiety?
Based on the collective angst I’ve encountered this week in the far corners of Mountaineer Nation regarding this game, I might think Louisiana State trounced West Virginia by six touchdowns in last year’s trip to Baton Rouge. That obviously wasn’t the case.
Last September, the Tigers parlayed a punt return for a TD and a WVU fumble at its own 7-yard line into a narrow 20-14 win. Jeff Casteel’s defense smothered LSU, limiting them to a mere 230 total yards – a figure that represents the lowest yardage output by Les Miles’ offense in its last 23 games. But now, with the Bayou Bengals poised to visit Mountaineer Field (where West Virginia is 47-6 in its last 53 games), rational thinking seems to have been hijacked somewhere along the way and supplanted by hyperbole and media hype with some folks suggesting WVU will be lucky to even keep it interesting.
Am I missing something here?
At any rate, if West Virginia is indeed to take the No. 2 ranked Tigers by the tail Saturday night in Morgantown, here are five things that could play a major role.
1) WIN ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Under Les Miles, the Tigers have scored an eye-popping 14 special teams touchdowns – including Patrick Peterson’s punt return last year against WVU. LSU is typically solid in every phase of special teams, but West Virginia might actually be catching the Tigers in a transition phase. Heading into this season Louisiana State was been forced to replace its punter, its placekicker (Josh Jasper – one of the nation’s finest) and the electrifying Peterson in the return game. Moreover, the Tigers lost special teams coordinator Joe Lewis during the offseason to North Carolina. Can the Mountaineers seize on all this and uncover a chink in LSU’s armor that comes in the form of a coverage lapse to spring Tavon Austin in the return game? We’ll see.
2) WIN IN THE RED ZONE: Dating back to last October, the Tigers have scored on 40 consecutives red zone possessions. In a game in which points could be at a relative premium, nothing could give West Virginia a boost faster than snapping that LSU streak by forcing a timely turnover inside the 20. Winning the red zone against the Tigers might not mean simply scoring on a higher percentage of your trips, however. It will more likely mean coming away with touchdowns while limiting LSU to field goals.
3) CONVERT AT LEAST TWO THIRD AND LONGS: Louisiana State is No. 3 in the country in tackles for loss, averaging a chunky 10 per game. This is a program that’s had at least one D-lineman selected in eight straight NFL drafts. The Tigers front seven is an incredibly deep and disruptive force that thrives on penetration. A point of fact: 18 different LSU defenders have been involved in a TFL already this year. West Virginia will, of course, game plan to mitigate the number of lost yardage plays incurred by the Tigers, but it’s unrealistic to think WVU can pitch a shutout in this area. LSU will almost certainly track down a few Mountaineers in the backfield throughout the course of the game, ultimately leading to third and long (even 10 yards or more) situations. For the WVU offense to keep on track, it will need to convert at least two (or maybe more) of these challenging third downs.
4) YARDS AFTER CATCH: When facing a defensive line as formidable as Louisiana State’s, a key part of any offensive plan is to get rid of the football quickly. This translates into a heavy dose of perimeter screens and three-step pass drops, which in turn, places a heavy burden on West Virginia’s receivers to make things happen after they catch the football. Dana Holgorsen will almost certainly pick his moments to take a few shots downfield Saturday night, but the quick game will need to be a staple of the Mountaineer passing attack if WVU hopes to consistently move the football against the Tigers. As such, it’s imperative that Tavon, Stedman Bailey & Co. find a way to shake tackles and hit creases against cornerbacks Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and an LSU secondary that’s exceptional in the open field.
5) CONTROL THE LSU GROUND GAME: The Tigers return nine of their top 10 O-line from last year’s two-deep and Les Miles will step off the bus running the football. One thing the West Virginia defense hasn’t faced yet this year is an offense that will batten down the hatches and test WVU’s manhood between the tackles. Chris Nield was a major force in the middle in 2010 and had a key role in the Mountaineers’ success defensively against the Tigers. This year, the Bengals ground game is solid but not spectacular, averaging 166 yards per game at a modest clip of 3.8 per carry (including just 3.9 per attempt against FCS member Northwestern State). The question is: can Jorge Wright and company answer the bell when LSU’s two-headed RB tandem of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford come calling? If so, the Tigers won’t so easily be able to dip into a facet of their offense they lean on heavily in key situations – play action passing.
If West Virginia can navigate its way through these five things, history might just be made Saturday night at Mountaineer Field.
A year ago, an unbeaten LSU team boasting the nation’s third-ranked defense went into Jordan Hare Stadium and was upset by an Auburn squad that exploded for more than 500 yards of offense and catapulted Cam Newton into the Heisman spotlight. Can a similar script unfold this weekend in Morgantown? It’s food for thought.
In the meantime, here’s hoping we don’t get caught looking ahead to Bowling Green next week.
See you at the fifty.