LSU Game Notebook
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Down in the Bayou they are promoting junior cornerback Patrick Peterson for the Heisman Trophy, and for good reason. He’s that good.
Many consider Peterson the best cover cornerback in the country. It is certainly hard finding another one as big as Peterson, who stands 6-feet-1 and weighs 222 pounds; or one who has his measurables: 11 feet one inch in the broad jump, 39-inch vertical and two laser-timed 4.37s in the 40 during testing last spring; or one with his phenomenal playmaking abilities in the return game: 23.9 yards per punt return including an 87-yarder for a touchdown against North Carolina during the season opener and a school-record 257 yards in returns against the Tar Heels.
Peterson made two attention-grabbing interceptions last Saturday against Mississippi State – both picks a demonstration in athleticism in which he tipped the ball to himself, including returning one of them 46 yards.
Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhardt, thinks Peterson is the best cornerback in the country and you won't get an argument from West Virginia's Bill Stewart.
“He’s tremendous,” Stewart said Tuesday. “Patrick Peterson is up for the Heisman, I guess. Thirty-one, seven is his kickoff returns with a long of 47, which means he’s getting out there pretty good. His punt returns are 23.9. Can you imagine how many yards that is per game? He’s 23.9 on punt returns with a touchdown. He’s great. He probably should be up for the Heisman. The guy is the best DB in the country.”
“He’s as good as I’ve ever seen,” admitted offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
Peterson is a guy offenses certainly have to pay attention to, either by how they call their plays or by where they run them. The first thing West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith will have to do when he is scanning the field this Saturday is to find out where number seven is lined up. But Stewart said that is something quarterbacks naturally do anyway.
“Quarterbacks shouldn’t be looking at our players,” he said. “They should be looking for the opposing player and throw the ball where that guy isn’t. You don’t throw the ball where our guy is because you are not paying attention to the defensive guy. You better know where seven is.”
Great linebackers can disrupt the running game, great defensive tackles can disrupt the line of scrimmage and great edge pass rushers can reduce the number of players available in the passing game. Stewart said the great cover corners can take outside receivers completely out of the game. Which is exactly what Peterson did that last year with Alabama’s Julio Jones during the Tide’s tough, 24-15 win over the Tigers on the way to their national championship season.
“When you watch tape on him he’s always on (the other team’s) best guy,” said Mullen. “He plays left side, right side, down the middle … when you look at all that tape from last year he was on Julio Jones at Alabama and AJ Green from Georgia. They move him around to cover their best guys so it will be interesting to see who they decide they want him to cover."
“You look up the stats and all of a sudden your number two, Bradley Starks, doesn’t have any catches. Your number 10, Stedman Bailey, doesn’t have any catches. Your number 81, J.D. Woods, doesn’t have any catches,” said Stewart. “Now the slots inside should get some catches because they’re not going head-to-head with him. When you look up and you see, ‘Wow, how many balls did these guys catch? Well, they didn’t catch very many?’ Why? Because Peterson is covering him. He’s great. He just is.”
In the same breath, Stewart thinks it would be a serious error to completely alter what a team does offensively just because of one great defensive player.
“We’re going to do the same things that we do in every game, but we have to know where their players are,” he said. “When you drop back and throw the ball, you look at them – you don’t look at us. Once you see where they are, then you find us and you deliver the ball.”
Mullen said he has prepared for players like Peterson in the past during his days at Wake Forest.
“Every weekend we had a Mario Williams at defensive end or a cover corner like (Samari) Rolle or Devin Hester or somebody that was going to be an issue for us,” he said. “You just try your best, whether he’s inside to create double teams or in pass protections chips, maybe move the formation around so you don’t run at a guy, or you don’t want to run away from him because he will chase you down. With a defensive back, you try and find out where he is and certainly go to the other side of the field. But at the end of the day, 11 guys have got to make plays. Football is never one guy.”
Mullen said his philosophy doesn’t really change that much when facing an elite player like Patrick Peterson.
“Our philosophy is to do whatever we need to do to win,” he said. “We try to find a weakness in our opponent and attack that. It’s very difficult to find a weakness in this opponent so we’re going to try and be who we are and roll up our sleeves and fight like dogs, roll the dice every now and again and see what happens.”
“When we played those guys we beat them pretty bad,” recalled Bailey. “He actually was at safety then. He was always a good player and he always made big plays and I’m looking forward to playing against him.”
Asked how he did against Peterson, Bailey said he caught “like four passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns.”
Also, West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin is good buddies with LSU’s leading tackler Kelvin Sheppard, a Stone Mountain, Ga., native just like Irvin. Irvin said the two have been texting each other all week.
LSU is just as big on the other side of the ball, going 6-5, 6-4, 6-2 and 6-4 across its defensive front. The shortest defensive players are 6-foot corner Morris Claiborne, 6-foot strong safety Brandon Taylor and 6-foot will linebacker Ryan Baker.
“He’s really, really good in the return game,” Mullen noted. “If he picks one off we are going to have to stay in our lanes or he can take the thing the distance.”
And linebacker Pat Lazear, who has missed the first three games with a deep bone bruise in his leg, has been running and could be cleared for action this Saturday against the Tigers. Even though Lazear has been running and trying to stay in shape, Stewart admitted his conditioning will be a concern this weekend.
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