When playing a ranked team on the road in front of 92,500 fans, to have a chance to win the visitor must take care of the football, play solid special teams, and not give the opponent easy scoring opportunities.
For six disastrous minutes of the first half Saturday in Baton Rouge, the West Virginia Mountaineers did none of the above. The unraveling began with a fumble on the 7 yard line leading to an easy score, followed by an interception resulting in a field goal. The capper was a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown. A struggling LSU offense had done nothing, yet suddenly the Tigers had what turned out to be an insurmountable 17-0 lead.
To their credit, the Mountaineers fought back and made it a game to the wire. WVU got on the board with a touchdown at the end of the first half, and after converting a turnover into another score early in the third quarter trailed by only 17-14. But an outstanding LSU defense preserved the Tigers' final 20-14 margin
The West Virginia defense was exceptional, as the LSU offense essentially only earned 3 points the entire night, causing frustration among LSU fans. The Mountaineer offense, however, was able to gain only 177 total yards, could not generate a running attack, nor could it consistently handle the LSU pass rush.
But the difference in the outcome was essentially decided by the total LSU dominance on special teams.
In addition to the punt return for a score, the Tigers had another long runback early in the game, a scoring opportunity thwarted only by a WVU interception.
Each team attempted short and long field goals, both of which were made by the Tigers while the Mountaineers misfired on theirs. LSU enjoyed an average of about 15 yards better field position on kickoff returns, and when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, the Tigers punter twice pinned the WVU offense inside its own 10 yard line. Against Marshall two weeks earlier,such poor field position was not a problem, but trying to go the length of the field against the athletic LSU defense was another story.
It was a tough loss for the Mountaineers, for it was a game on the road against an SEC team which could have been won. But playing a good team in a hostile environment will make West Virginia a better team as the season progresses.
From my experience there was a real dichotomy in the treatment of WVU faithful attending the game. While the adults we encountered were universally gracious and polite, the same couldn't be said of the under 30 crowd. Being repeatedly taunted with chants of "Tiger Bait!" (among other less flattering things) while a guest on the LSU campus was mildly amusing the first 50 times or so, but after that it got a little old. I would have thought at one of the great college football programs that had won national championships, their younger supporters might have shown a little more class. I was mistaken.
The Mountaineers are off this weekend, returning to action in Morgantown on Oct. 9 against UNLV.