West Virginia University’s bid for an undefeated season wilted in the Louisiana humidity on Saturday night.
Ryan Clarke, spelling an injured Noel Devine, fumbled and Louisiana State returned it to the WVU seven-yard line. That fumble allowed LSU to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The only touchdown scored by the LSU offense all night.
In the second quarter, Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith threw an interception in WVU’s territory that LSU turned into a field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Then later in the second quarter, WVU’s special teams allowed Patrick Peterson to return a punt 60 yards for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Those were all the points LSU would need to win the game, LSU added another field goal in the third quarter to push their final score to 20.
Add a blocked field goal by the Tigers in the first quarter, and a missed field goal by the Mountaineers in the fourth quarter, and the outcome was decided.
With all due respect to the LSU Tigers, without the Mountaineers' penchant for gift-giving, this game could have had an entirely different outcome.
To be fair, the LSU defense showed just how dominant they can be throughout this game. Still, the Mountaineers had opportunities they did not capitalize on.
An injury to Noel Devine’s foot limited his effectiveness midway through the first quarter. The fact that it happened during an illegal tackle out of bounds had head coach Bill Stewart up in arms.
Ryan Clarke had been pegged as Devine’s backup. With Clarke’s fumble late in the first quarter, the Mountaineer running game disappeared. WVU rushed 27 times for a paltry 58 yards.
Stewart and running backs coach Chris Beatty must address depth behind Devine. The players are apparently on the roster, and they must be given the opportunity to prove themselves in game situations.
After Saturday’s loss in Death Valley, Devine may become a marked man for WVU opponents.
With no running game to keep the LSU defense honest, Geno Smith was in for a long night. Smith completed 14 of 29 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
The Mountaineer offensive line was out-manned in this game.
Smith was harassed the entire night, and seldom did he have time to set and go through his progressions. The pressure eventually got to Smith in the fourth quarter. After setting the offense and reviewing the defensive alignment by LSU, Smith lined up under right guard.
Noel Devine, who had returned to action, had to direct Smith to his proper place behind center. Suffice to say that WVU’s youth on offense showed itself in Death Valley.
Devine returned in the second half, but he was not the Noel Devine that WVU fans have witnessed in the past. How Devine’s foot will affect his future play remains to be seen.
The Mountaineer defense performed admirably, but Stevan Ridley appeared to be able to put the LSU offense on his back and carry it at will, had LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crouton decided to let him loose.
Ridley carried 20 times for 116 yards and one touchdown. The Mountaineer defense repeatedly displayed an inability to tackle Ridley.
WVU defenders were often seen attempting to strip the football, or trying to come up with the big hit instead of wrapping up and making the tackle.
Forced turnovers often decide the game in favor of the team forcing the turnover. Still, solid tackling by defenders is more important.
Allowing an opposing ball carrier to gain additional yardage when the fumble is not forced will lose ball games faster than forcing the turnover will win them.
If the Mountaineers do not get this corrected, it will haunt them again in the future.
Once again, the special teams the Mountaineers fielded were anything but special. LSU posted an average starting field position at the 50-yard line for the entire first half.
The Mountaineers simply did not play good enough to win this game.
Stewart fell to 7-8 in road games during his tenure as head coach. The last time the Mountaineers beat a ranked non-conference opponent on the road was in 1988 at Pitt.
The Mountaineers’ next game is October 9 against the University of Nevada Las Vegas in the comfortable confines of Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Mountaineers last loss at home was in 2008 to the University of Cincinnati in overtime. Stewart is 15-1 at home as head coach.
Bill Stewart and his coaching staff have two weeks to digest and formulate a plan for improved play by his charges.
More importantly, the Mountaineer players will have time to rest and lick their wounds in preparation for the Rebels of UNLV.
The Mountaineer injury report has been growing weekly; the bye will be a welcome respite to the players on that list.
WVU lost one football game to the LSU Tigers; one game does not a season make. How the Mountaineers respond after this loss will decide the remainder of the season.
Based on Bill Stewart’s terse answers to reporters questions in the postgame press conference, the Mountaineer football team is in for a long two weeks of preparation.