Winning Ugly Works Too

  • By John Antonik
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  • September 26, 2010 08:03 PM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - While watching last night's West Virginia-LSU game I couldn't help but think back to some of those West Virginia-Penn State games of years gone by.

You remember, the Nittany Lions usually looking awful on offense but getting just enough from their running game, defense and special teams to pull out a tight victory. Typically, the stat sheet afterward looked worse than a four-year-old's t-shirt after a spaghetti dinner.

Well, that's what happened Saturday night in Baton Rouge. LSU didn't win any style points with an offense that could muster only 230 total yards, including 10 of 22 through the air for an anemic 75 yards from maligned quarterback Jordan Jefferson (of course West Virginia's defense certainly had something to do with that).

The Tigers were 0 of 5 on their third down tries in the first half and finished the game just 3 of 13 in that category. Jefferson also threw two costly interceptions - one taking certain points off the board for LSU in the first quarter and a second directly leading to points after Jock Sanders scored a 13-yard touchdown to pull the Mountaineers to within three, 17-14, early in the third quarter.

But LSU has been down this road before. The Tigers are comfortable playing in close games like this, relying on strong special teams play and an impenetrable defense that thrives in late game situations. After the Sanders TD, the LSU defense gave up just 28 total yards for the remainder of the game.

That's what they do.

With the game hanging in the balance, West Virginia's final two drives started at its own seven and nine yard lines after two outstanding punts by Derek Holton. West Virginia's first attempt at changing field position ended at its own 15 with about seven minutes left in the game. The Mountaineers' second try to move beyond its own goal line wound up going in reverse, WVU having to punt from its own eight.

Meanwhile, LSU's 226-pound battering ram Stevan Ridley iced the game with a pair of first down runs on the way to a 116-yard rushing performance (just like those burly Penn State backs used to do to West Virginia in years gone by).

"I thought our defense played very well at times," said a disappointed West Virginia coach Bill Stewart after the game. "We just couldn't get off the field at the end of the ballgame and we couldn't get the ball back. They ran hard."

Here is how dominating LSU's defense was on Saturday: the Tigers had the football for more than 20 minutes in the second half despite an offense that frequently kicked the football back to West Virginia.

LSU won Saturday night the old fashioned way - with brute force. The Tigers were bigger, stronger and faster than the Mountaineers at almost every position, especially on defense.

Tiger fans may not like Jefferson's frequent misfires or Coach Les Miles' conservative play calling but the guy knows what it takes to win football games, having won better than 78 percent of them since he's been there.

Do the Tigers have enough offense to win the SEC West? Who knows? We'll let the LSU fans figure that one out.

But the Tiger defense is as good as any in the country - certainly as good as any West Virginia has faced in the last 10-15 years. They're big, they're fast and they play with an attitude.

Miles has got the most dynamic return man in the country in Patrick Peterson, who accounted for 86 yards on just two punt returns against West Virginia and is averaging better than 28 yards per return this year. He's got a field goal kicker that has made nine out of 10 so far this season, a punter that was able to down three inside the 20 yard line on Saturday night, a decent running game, and a home field advantage like no other in college football.

No, it's not always pretty, but it can work.

If you don't believe me, go look up some of West Virginia's old-timers who used to see the same thing happen to them from those ugly ducklings in the drab white uniforms from State College, Pa.