BATON ROUGE, La. -- After West Virginia's 20-14 loss at LSU Saturday night, quarterback Geno Smith argued that LSU didn't really stop the Mountaineers' offense. The offense, itself, was responsible for that.
Well, that's only partly true.
Indeed, two first-half turnovers in WVU territory were crucial, perhaps the most important plays in the game. The Tigers managed a 10-0 lead as a direct result of Ryan Clarke's fumble at the 7-yard line and Smith's interception at the 41.
And, too, in addition to scoring two touchdowns, the West Virginia offense also got into position to try two field goals. One, after a 67-yard drive to the LSU 11, was blocked. Tyler Bitancurt simply missed the second, hooking a 48-yarder to the left.
But the numbers don't lie. West Virginia rushed for just 58 yards. Noel Devine averaged only 2.6 yards per carry when he wasn't sidelined by a toe injury. Smith completed fewer than half his passes, 14-of-29, for just 119 yards. The Mountaineers averaged just 3.2 yards on 56 plays.
And LSU's mix-and-match blitzes and changing defenses caused the West Virginia offense a lot of problems.
"You've got to give a lot of credit to LSU,'' said offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "Their front four was special. They have arguably the best defensive player in the country in their secondary [cornerback Patrick Peterson]. ... I don't want to make excuses, but I do want to give them credit.''
West Virginia's biggest problem was the speed of LSU's defensive front, especially when the Tigers rushed the passer. Smith did an excellent job just getting the ball away in many instances and somehow managed to avoid even a single sack. Several of those quick throws almost turned into big plays, too, including a near-catch by Jock Sanders at the LSU 10-yard line in the fourth quarter.
A successful play there would have given the Mountaineers a first-and-goal, trailing 20-14.
But that's exactly the point. LSU's defensive speed was just enough to disrupt those plays.
"They sent some different packages and mixed it up a little bit,'' Smith said. "They're good. There's no doubt about that.''
Still, the Mountaineers had two chances at the end to drive the length of the field and make something happen, just as they had in beating Marshall. They did not.
"We expect to score in those situations,'' Smith said. "It was just execution. But to have the game in your hands and [a chance for a] game-winning drive is what we want. It didn't happen, but we're not going to hang our heads.''