Good day turns bad for WVU
MORGANTOWN - It was quite the scene.
Milan Puskar Stadium was packed. The joint was jumping before Saturday's game as the Goodyear blimp flew overhead. T-shirts were awaiting fans on their seats and all but the LSU fans were dressed in gold. The GameDay visit was, by all accounts, a rousing success. Bob Huggins' appearance on the set was a smash hit. National media representatives hit town. Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit were calling the game for ABC. And, yes, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. sang the national anthem and proved West Virginia's got talent indeed.
Perhaps not since Ohio State's visit to Mountaineer Field in 1998 had the atmosphere been so electric. Hope sprang eternal for the fans of No. 16 WVU against No. 2 LSU.
Then the Mountaineers sprung more leaks than the Nixon administration, including four turnovers.
Needing a fast start, to gain confidence, to gain an early advantage with the Tigers holding the depth advantage, WVU sputtered early.
And sputtered more. And one could see the athletically superior LSU instead gain the confidence en route to the easy 47-21 victory.
On WVU's first possession, there was a personal foul called on steady Mountaineer center Joe Madsen. Then punter Corey Smith shanked a 14-yard punt.
Instead of playing as if it were their house, the Mountaineers played as if they had an overnight bag.
LSU played with poise. LSU played with toughness. The latter was especially evident on a Geno Smith pass to Brad Starks, who, after a 10-yard gain, then had the ball ripped out of his hands by Tyrann Mathieu.
Also, the Tigers established a balanced offensive attack. In the rushing game, they at times lined up and ran right at the Mountaineer three-man front. Once, late in the first half, LSU used a two-tight end formation for three plays. The first two went for a combined nine yards. On the third, quarterback Jarrett Lee showed play action and went over the top to Odell Beckham, Jr., for a 52-yard burn of WVU's Terence Garvin.
WVU's Smith, meanwhile, rolled up the yardage, but was overthrowing his deep targets. He bobbled a couple snaps. There were a couple drops from the receivers.
Even LSU's punter seemed confident, poised. He had more pins of the Mountaineers than Rulon Gardner in the Olympics. Over and over, WVU started inside its 10-yard line. Meanwhile, perhaps we saw why Smith is no longer kicking for Alabama's Nick Saban.
Give the Mountaineers some credit though. Although they were clearly outmatched, they showed spunk in the third quarter. Smith was still throwing high on deep passes, but he and teammates took the first possession of the second half and marched 80 yards in six plays to close the gap to 27-14.
The sellout crowd of 62,056 then roared when Tavon Austin exhibited his speed with a 72-yard catch and run to the LSU 18. The stadium was alive with the score 27-21.
Seconds after, however, Tiger return man Morris Clayborne burst forward, made WVU's Avery Williams whiff on a tackle and took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to make the score 34-21.
The electric was unplugged.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the game followed the script laid out by national experts in picking the Tigers to win - with a few twists. LSU quarterback Lee had three touchdowns in the three games leading into Saturday's action. He had three in the first half against the Mountaineers.
LSU's athletes were superior. The Tigers, at times perhaps feigning injury, slowed the Mountaineers' tempo at critical times. WVU's Smith, understandably, tried to unload the ball quickly after the snap, perhaps leading to some of the overthrows and, on a critical fourth-and-three situation early in the fourth quarter, an underthrow.
The Mountaineer offense did move though. In a big way. The problem is, the yardage didn't translate into nearly enough points. It reminded one of Carolina's Cam Newton throwing for over 400 yards in each of his first two NFL games. And losing both.
Defensively, West Virginia, as projected, wore down. The Mountaineers have four real defensive linemen, with no stud at nose tackle. LSU has defensive linemen coming out its ears. In the end, WVU's rebuilt defense sagged. Thus, 47 Tiger points.
Overall? LSU proved it deserves to be one of the top five ranked teams in the country. It showed athleticism, poise and toughness.
The Mountaineers showed they could move the ball against one of the best defenses in the country, but has a way to go before can defeat one of the SEC's best.
Anticipate WVU seriously dropping in the polls. Getting smacked around by any team, highly ranked or not, on the home turf doesn't look good on the resume.
Still, there's hope for the Mountaineers. They can, and probably will, win the Big East. A BCS bowl berth is still there for the taking.
Saturday, though, was a good day gone bad for the home team.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.