West Virginia Mountaineers To Face LSU Tigers in Death Valley

Jeff Woollard@JeffWoollardCorrespondent IIMarch 8, 2010

The annual muzzle-loading season will open early for West Virginia hunters in 2010. The wild game responsible for the one-day season will be Bengal Tigers. West Virginia fans are urged to purchase their permits early; demand is expected to be high.

West Virginia hunters are cautioned to be wary Tigers are expected to outnumber Mountaineers by a large margin. Muzzle-loaders will be required to enter “Death Valley” to participate.

The metaphorical hunting day is Sept. 25; the time has yet to be determined. The area the hunt is to be held is Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home to the LSU Tigers.

Few WVU football opponents have garnered the attention that the LSU contest is generating. The expectations Mountaineer fans are applying to this game rival any bowl game WVU has participated in to date.

Signature games come around every few years for any football program. In LSU Bill Stewart faces an opponent that with a win will legitimize his position as head football coach at WVU.

Ironically, Les Miles the head coach of the LSU football team finds himself in the same position that Bill Stewart does. The Tigers have posted an 8-5 and 9-4 record the past two seasons. A record many LSU fans find lacking.

“Les Miles really needs to turn the football program back around to regain national respect after going 8-5 and 9-4 the last two seasons. Winning 17 games in the last two years in football would have made 90 percent of the teams playing 1-A football very happy, but not LSU fans (including myself) who are not satisfied without reaching a BCS game”, stated Dandy Don on dandydon.com, an LSU sports website.

Miles is even accused of benefiting from the cast of players that Nick Saban recruited. The national title Miles won after the 2007 season is widely credited to Saban’s recruiting classes.

The Bleacher Report’s own Chase Bowman answers that question the best .

Miles’ LSU team plays in the vaunted SEC, a conference that boasts the last four national titles in football.

Bill Stewart’s WVU team plays in the Big East, a conference that boasts no national titles since BCS play began.

Both coaches enter 2010 with questions swirling about their abilities as head coaches, Miles holds the edge with the aforementioned national title.

Add a recruiting edge to the LSU ledger. LSU’s last two recruiting classes have been ranked decidedly higher than WVU’s. Even though WVU’s past two classes are its highest ranked recruiting classes back-to-back in its history.

Both teams enter the 2010 season with defense headlining their campaign hopes. WVU, as with LSU, shows depth and experience throughout its defense.

Jeff Casteel will again coordinate the 3-3-5 stack defense at WVU. The alignment has often been credited with confusing opposing offenses due to its unique approach.

LSU should show no confusion when lining up against Casteel’s defense. Florida, an SEC member school, runs a similar defensive set.

WVU returns its starting corners from the 2009 team. Both starting corners came under fire for their inconsistent play in 2009, an inconsistency that could decide the outcome of the contest.

John Chavis coordinates a more conventional alignment for LSU, the 4-3. Chavis consistently fields one of the best defenses in the country. Chavis has come under scrutiny of late for his defense's lack of sacks, a concern that may be the key to LSU’s ability to stop WVU.

We’ll call this comparison a push. Both schools field quality defenses with areas for improvement.

WVU and LSU both share offense as the major area of concern. Specifically, offensive line play. Neither squad has shown a propensity to dominate the line of scrimmage consistently.

Both offensive coordinators Jeff Mullen from WVU and Gary Crowton from LSU have seen their stock plummet in the eyes of fans. Play calling for both coordinators has been the major culprit.

Both coordinators have experienced sub-par offensive line play. To me, offensive line play will determine the outcome of this game. Whichever offensive line steps up and controls the line of scrimmage will allow its offense to run efficiently.

LSU will enter 2010 with a second year quarterback, Jordan Jefferson. WVU will have a first year quarterback for the second year in a row.

Further clouding the picture is the ankle injury to Eugene Smith. Smith was the favored to start for WVU heading into spring practice. It is uncertain whether Smith will participate in any drills throughout spring practice .

Smith’s absence from spring drills will hinder his development with the group of talented young receivers on the WVU roster.

Bill Stewart moved spring practice back until April to accommodate Smith’s injury. Recent prognosis of Smith’s ankle appear to make the gesture mute.

Coley White, Pat White’s younger brother, will fill the vacated quarterback position for WVU during spring drills. Many fans believe Coley is overmatched in his role at quarterback.

Alas, that may turn out to be the case. Yet, to this fan, there is hope that he will develop this spring and win the starting job in the fall. I can’t help but pull for the kid, I feel I owe it to Pat for all that he did for WVU football and its fans.

Of course any talk of the Mountaineer offense has to include Noel Devine. LSU’s ability to contain Devine will have a huge impact on the WVU offense, and the overall outcome of the game. Devine is capable of winning the game for his WVU teammates.

WVU and LSU show quality players at the skill positions on offense. LSU gets the edge in this category; the uncertainty at quarterback for WVU is the key.

We come to the “Achilles Heal” of the Mountaineer football team, special teams. For two years the special teams play at WVU has been horrendous at times.

Specifically the coverage teams have consistently given up big returns to the opposition. Steve Dunlap has been tasked with correcting those fatal flaws. Dunlap is the current safeties coach on the defensive staff.

In the 1990s under Don Nehlen, Steve Dunlap was the defensive coordinator at WVU. Dunlap’s defenses were consistently stout. Stewart is counting on Dunlap to make the coverage teams stout as well.

WVU also lost its punter from last year. Stewart enters spring drills with finding a punter as another special teams’ priority.

Without even reviewing the LSU special teams, they get the nod by default until proven otherwise.

LSU and WVU both aspire to the coveted national title in 2010. LSU and WVU begin the season as dark horse candidates to win that title.

This early evaluation of the WVU vs. LSU football game shows LSU with the edge on paper. Sept. 25 will no doubt show WVU as the underdog in Baton Rouge as well.

More than one prognosticator has penciled a win beside LSU’s name for this game.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, LSU must earn the victory. A win by WVU would certainly be an upset, but not to the degree that many are beginning to paint.

Bill Stewart can secure his position as head football coach with a win. Few expect Les Miles to do the same with a victory. LSU and the national media simply don’t hold the Mountaineers to that esteem.

LSU fans seem to be disregarding the Mountaineer football team. Historically, that has not often been a wise approach when facing a WVU football team.

LSU considers itself bigger and faster than WVU. An opinion Tiger fans may find remiss when they meet.

There is a perception that Big East football members are weak. LSU and its fans would do well to dispel that myth now. LSU will find itself in a football game on Sept. 25.

Bill Stewart will bring the Mountaineer football team to “Death Valley” ready to play.

The true question is will Les Miles and the LSU Tigers respect WVU enough to deaux the same?


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