MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia's prime time opportunity Saturday night revealed the Mountaineers for what perhaps they are at this point in their development.
Not ready for prime time.
While West Virginia fought valiantly at times, rolled up staggering offensive numbers and was within a single score of the lead as the fourth quarter approached, No. 2 LSU still managed to make the biggest plays when they mattered most.
All that, combined with four critical turnovers and atrocious special teams play, resulted in a 47-21 loss that will drop the No. 16 Mountaineers (3-1) down or completely out of the Top 25.
The loss continued a tradition of futility by the Mountaineers against the nation's highest-ranked teams. West Virginia is now 0-16 against teams ranked either first or second in the Associated Press poll, dating back to a 1946 loss to Army.
"A couple of times I thought we had momentum,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said after his first defeat as a head coach. "But you can't beat a team with plays like that.''
The plays Holgorsen lamented most were turnovers. West Virginia rolled up a stunning 533 yards against an LSU defense that came into the game not only with a reputation as one of the nation's best, but the stats to back it up. Those 533 yards were 325 more than the Tigers' surrendered on average in their first three games.
But two interceptions and two fumbles wiped out so many opportunities. They also led directly to three LSU touchdowns.
A crowd of 62,056, though, was kept interested through three quarters. While West Virginia trailed big at halftime -- 27-7 -- and wound up losing big, as the third quarter drew to a close the Mountaineers trailed just 27-21. They had scored twice to make the game interesting once again and their defense was playing well.
But then LSU's Morris Claiborne returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score and the Mountaineers never recovered.
"That hurt,'' left tackle Don Barclay said of the touchdown return, which took every bit of wind out of the Mountaineers' sails. "We were pretty pumped up cutting [the deficit] from 20 points to six. But there's nothing we can do about that as an offense.''
Indeed, West Virginia's loss was not for the absence of a productive offense. In fact, many of the numbers West Virginia posted were historic, primarily from quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Smith would finish the game 38-for-65 for 463 yards -- all school records -- and West Virginia gained those 533 total yards. That was against an LSU defense that ranked sixth in the nation in total defense and 19th in passing defense.
"Yeah, but I'd trade all those for a win,'' Smith said. "I wouldn't care if I passed for zero yards if we win.''
Austin, who a week ago had 11 catches for 122 yards at Maryland, was even better against the Tigers -- 11 more catches for 187 yards. Bailey caught eight passes for 115 yards, his second straight 100-yard performance.
LSU gained 366 yards and quarterback Jarrett Lee completed 16 of 28 passes for 180 yards. But it was perhaps the Tigers ground game -- 186 yards and three touchdowns -- that hurt West Virginia the most.
Still, with just over a quarter to play, this one was still interesting, to say the least.