West Virginia-LSU Preview

West Virginia isn’t known for a prolific air attack, but its

passing game is a big reason why the team is off to a strong

start.

The lack of one is what has LSU fans concerned despite an

unbeaten record.

This Saturday night matchup is the biggest potential stumbling

block to a possible perfect season for the 22nd-ranked

Mountaineers, who will try to hand the No. 15 Tigers their first

non-conference loss at Baton Rouge in a decade.

“LSU is a great tradition and a great venue. It is a big

showcase for college football and it is a chance for the

Mountaineers to go down and see how we measure up,” coach Bill

Stewart said. “Teams have not been too successful down there in

Tiger Country, and maybe we will be blessed a little bit

better.”

No team outside the SEC has won there since UAB on Sept. 23,

2000, with LSU since winning all 28 home games against

non-conference foes. The Tigers also are riding the longest overall

non-conference win streak in the nation, taking 30 in a row since a

2002 season-opening loss at Virginia Tech.

However, the Tigers (3-0) have looked a bit vulnerable this year

– their opponent was within one score well into the second half of

all three games – partly because the passing game hasn’t gotten on

track.

Big things were expected of quarterback Jordan Jefferson in his

second season as the starter, but he’s the 10th-rated passer in the

SEC and has failed to throw for 100 yards in back-to-back

games.

“As a receiving corps, we have things we have to work on. It’s

not all Jordan,” wideout Russell Shepard said.

An emerging group of receivers is a key reason West Virginia

(3-0) could win at Tiger Stadium and jump into the national title

picture. LSU is the only current Top 25 team on the Mountaineers’

schedule and their only other remaining opponent which hasn’t lost

is Rutgers.

“I’m really pumped up to see what I can do and see what the team

can do,” said Tavon Austin, the Big East’s leading receiver with 21

catches and 281 yards. “It’s going to be something down there (in

Baton Rouge).”

Austin and fellow first-year starter Stedman Bailey, who had two

touchdown receptions in a 31-17 win over Maryland last Saturday,

have teamed with senior Jock Sanders to give sophomore Geno Smith

plenty of capable targets.

Smith is the Big East’s top-rated quarterback and leads the

conference with 800 yards passing. No West Virginia player has led

the Big East in that category since Marc Bulger in 1998, mainly

because the offense has been built around a ground game led by star

rushers like Noel Devine and Steve Slaton as well as mobile

quarterbacks Pat White and Rasheed Marshall.

“I think their quarterback is a very, very talented guy,” LSU

coach Les Miles said of Smith. “I think that he gives them every

opportunity at success in the offense that they are running.”

Smith is also helped by opposing defenses focusing heavily on

Devine. The nation’s active rushing leader with 3,735 yards, Devine

has run for more than 100 yards in all three games and has added 13

receptions for 89 yards.

LSU has a good rushing attack led by Stevan Ridley, who has run

for 318 yards, but he is facing a West Virginia defense that is

holding opponents to 62.7 rushing yards per game – eighth-best

nationally.

That may mean Jefferson needs to step up, but the Mountaineers

pass defense could get a boost if Stewart reinstates senior

cornerback Brandon Hogan. The all-Big East first-team selection was

allowed to practice Tuesday for the first time since being

suspended indefinitely for a drunken driving arrest earlier this

month.

While West Virginia has won five of six against ranked teams,

the Tigers have dropped their last three home games versus Top 25

foes. These programs are meeting for the first time.