The reason West Virginia couldn't come all the way back from that 17-0 hole was an LSU defense that was even stingier than West Virginia's. The Mountaineers managed just 177 yards of total offense, including just 58 rushing. Smith completed 14-of-29 passes for just 119 yards and Devine, who returned full time from his toe injury midway through the third quarter, was held to 37 yards on 14 carries.
Still, even that might have been good enough had it not been for the turnovers because of the way the defense played.
Consider that West Virginia fought back from that 17-0 deficit to make it 17-14 early in the second half. The Mountaineers drove 52 yards in 10 plays at the end of the first half and got a 5-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Stedman Bailey. Then at the beginning of the second half, Eain Smith picked off LSU's Jordan Jefferson to set up Smith's 13-yard scoring pass to Jock Sanders.
Perhaps by then it should have been no worse than 14-7 in favor of the Mountaineers and it would have been LSU fighting to come back.
"You can't turn the ball over like that and expect to win,'' said Geno Smith. "You just can't do it, especially on the road in a place like this.''
But after surrendering just four first downs to that point midway through the third quarter, West Virginia's defense finally was driven on late in the third quarter. But even at that, the Mountaineers eventually stiffened. LSU drove 72 yards and had five first downs in a seven-minute possession, but had to settle for a 23-yard Josh Jasper field goal and a 20-14 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
West Virginia had a chance to keep pace, but Tyler Bitancurt missed his second field goal of the game, this time from 48 yards, with 10:41 to play. Bitancurt had a 28-yard attempt blocked early in the game.
But there would be no miracle finish this time. LSU didn't move the ball well the rest of the game, but they held onto the ball just long enough to run some clock.
West Virginia, meanwhile, got the ball on its own 7-yard line with 8:49 to play and on its 9 with about four minutes left and neither time managed so much as a first down.
Did the noise at Tiger Stadium make a difference there at the end? Well, perhaps, given that it was so loud that at one point Smith was going up and down the line trying to audible and, when he finished, lined up momentarily behind a guard. But there were other factors.
"The noise played a role,'' said Bailey. "But they just played good defense.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.