Tigers Hold Off Mountaineers
LSU’s do-everything cornerback Patrick Peterson returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown and Josh Jasper kicked two field goals to help the 15th-ranked Tigers defeat No. 21 West Virginia 20-14 Saturday night at Tigers Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
"That was a tough one to lose, and it is going to stick with me for a long time," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, now 1-3 at WVU against ranked teams. "It is going to stick with our staff and more importantly it is going to stick with our seniors."
The victory was LSU’s 29th straight against non-conference competition at home and its 31st overall outside of SEC play dating back to a 2002 loss at Virginia Tech. The Tigers are also 26-1 in night games under Coach Les Miles.
"Our football team is playing great on defense," said Miles. "I think our special teams is a reason that we win. If the offense can throw it a little bit better and continue to run it like we have, we might see if we can parlay this team into a little bit better position than the 4-0 position that we are currently in."
Two West Virginia turnovers and some outstanding special teams play by the Tigers gave LSU a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Ryan Clarke’s fumble at the LSU seven led to Stevan Ridley’s 1-yard touchdown run, and Tyrann Mathieu’s pick of a Geno Smith pass intended for tight end Will Johnson led to Josh Jasper’s 49-yard field goal and an early 10-0 Tiger lead.
LSU got on the board again with 9:39 showing on a second-quarter clock when Peterson took Gregg Pugnetti’s punt on a dead run at the 40 and snaked his way through the Mountaineer coverage unit for a 60-yard touchdown – his second punt return for a TD this year. In the opener, Peterson took one back 87 yards against North Carolina.
Another big special teams play by LSU’s Barkevious Mingo kept West Virginia off the scoreboard on its second possession of the game when the Mountaineers’ drive stalled at the LSU five and Mingo was able to get penetration up the middle and deflect Tyler Bitancurt’s 26-yard field goal try.
West Virginia (3-1) scored right before the end of the first half to make a game of it, the Mountaineers’ drive covering 53 yards in 10 plays. On first down, quarterback Geno Smith hooked up with Tavon Austin for 18 yards to the LSU 35. Two plays later, a Smith option keeper gained 11 to the LSU 18 and then three Ryan Clarke runs got the ball to the Tiger nine. Smith was able to convert a fourth and 1 before eventually hitting Stedman Bailey out in the flat for a 5-yard touchdown with 48 seconds remaining in the half to put the Mountaineers to within 10, 17-7.
West Virginia inched closer after Jordan Jefferson’s pass down the seam was picked off by Eain Smith at the 47 and he returned it 32 yards to the 15. Smith was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing the ball in the air in disgust after falling to the ground without anyone touching him while trying to score a touchdown.
Two Geno Smith passes – one for 17 yards to Tavon Austin and the second for 13 yards to Jock Sanders put the Mountaineers back into the end zone to make the score 17-14, LSU, with 12:39 showing on a third quarter clock.
From there the defenses took over. West Virginia forced LSU to punt on back to back possessions before the Tigers put together their best drive of the night, covering 72 yards on 14 plays and eating 7:07 off the clock to get into position for Jasper to kick a 23-yard field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Ridley had the two biggest plays of the drive, gaining 16 on a second-and-11 play to take the ball to the LSU 38, and then hitting for 12 more on second and 7 to get the ball to the Mountaineer 21.
On West Virginia’s next drive, Noel Devine ran for 12 on first down to the Mountaineer 37 and two plays later, a roughing-the-passer penalty called on Mingo for delivering a blow to the head of along the sideline to keep the sticks moving, but West Virginia’s drive eventually stalled at the LSU 29 where Bitancurt hooked a 48-yard field goal try left of the goal post.
West Virginia’s final two offensive possessions of the game netted just three yards as the Mountaineers were backed up inside their own 10 yard line. Following a second straight three-and-out by the West Virginia offense, LSU took over at the WVU 43 with 2:55 left and was able to run out the clock.
Neither team was able to do much in the way of offense, LSU outgaining the Mountaineers 230-177 but West Virginia holding a slight 14-12 advantage in first downs.
"I do not like missing two field goals. I do not like giving up a punt return. I do not like us not handling the pressure, and I do not like being able to capitalize and trading touchdowns for turnovers," said Stewart. "That is not funny to me."
LSU (4-0) got just enough from Ridley, who finished the game with 116 yards on 20 carries, to overcome another poor passing performance from Jordan Jefferson, who completed only 10 of his 22 pass attempts for 75 yards with two interceptions.
"An SEC team like LSU has that swagger about them," said defensive back Keith Tandy. "They’re bigger and stronger so they try and run right at you. They have one of the best players in the country in Patrick Peterson. They’re real fast and athletic and know how to play the game."
LSU’s ground game (150 yards on 36 carries), the two big WVU turnovers and LSU’s special teams play were the difference in tonight’s game. Smith, after throwing for 800 yards in his first three games against Coastal Carolina, Marshall and Maryland, managed to pass for only 119 yards tonight.
“LSU is a team that we knew coming into the game one of their big things is getting pressure on the quarterback," said Smith. "They sent a lot of blitzes. They have good athletes in the secondary, but it was something we were prepared for. I thought we should have done a better job.”
Devine, hampered by a foot injury early in the first half, was bottled up for the entire game, running 14 times for 37 yards as the Mountaineer ground game could muster just 58 yards on 27 carries. West Virginia’s longest play from scrimmage was 19 yards against a Tiger defense that came into the game giving up less than 280 yards per game.
Tonight’s announced attendance of 92,575 was the 14th-largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history and the second-largest crowd West Virginia has ever played in front of. WVU is now 0-14 all-time in games played before more than 80,000 spectators.
West Virginia has a week off before resuming non-conference play against UNLV at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 9. That game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by the Big East Network.
"We have to regroup and we have a week to get healed up to get ready to play UNLV at home before we start the Big East,” said Stewart.
Tickets still remain for both the UNLV annd USF games and can be purchased by calling the Mountaineer Ticket Office toll-free at 1-800-WVU GAME or by logging on to WVUGAME.com.
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