LSU (3 - 0), beat Mississippi State 19-6
West Virginia (3 - 0), beat Maryland 37-31
There may not be a more important player in this matchup than West Virginia S Terence Garvin. The 6’2” 218 pound senior safety plays more like a linebacker... but then again, that’s become the way things are done in college football these days. Regardless, Garvin had a pick six, nine tackles and an assist on a tackle for a loss against Maryland. Quite simply, it felt like there were three #28s all over the field.
This week, he’s going to be in a tough situation, difficult situation for any safety. The Tigers can run the rock as well as any team the Mountaineers are going to face this season and Garvin MUST be involved in stopping the run, especially just outside the tackle box. The Mountaineers front six got pushed around in the second half against Maryland, a team that doesn’t have quite the offensive line that LSU has.
West Virginia’s front desperately needs Garvin to be involved in stopping the run, but the problem is that the Mountaineers need Garvin to help stop the speed sweeps to Russell Shepard, who is eligible to return this week as well, in addition to any quick passing game. This isn’t an enviable position for Garvin whatsoever, but he’s one of the best in the Big East and will have his work cut out for him assisting in all aspects of stopping the LSU offensive machine.
It’s a well known fact: This West Virginia team doesn’t run the ball well - in a most traditional “QB-turn-and-hand-off-to-RB” sense. Nearly everyone has bashed this West Virginia offense for not being able to run, but does it have to? Does it have to run to win this game? Not necessarily.
First and foremost, it has to be able to attack as many areas on the field as humanly possible, whether that’s on speed sweeps, traditional zone runs, gap plays or bubble screens. Dana Holgorsen and his offensive staff utilize the entire 53 yards (the horizontal width of the field) and that’s going to be the key against this LSU defense. That’s good news because the Tigers’ defense is so good playing the run with the speed on that side of the ball that hammering the run against that defense is going to be fruitless, in some sense.
Now, as soon as both teams got through their games last week, people defaulted to “well, they shut down Oregon and Mississippi State (spread attacks), so they should hammer West Virginia, too” (the Mountaineers are another spread attack). First of all, all three spread attacks are completely and totally different. Also, keep in mind, the Mountaineers have the two weapons those other two don’t have - Holgorsen and QB Geno Smith. Smith’s ability to spray the ball all over the yard gives West Virginia the opportunity to move the football effectively without running it 30 times a night. LSU is going to play 5 or 6 DBs for much of the game, but West Virginia’s varied passing attack can provide the offensive balance that is necessary to beat LSU, it’s just that the “balance” is found solely in the passing attack.
The Mountaineers will challenge LSU at each area on the field in the passing game and Smith can find the open holes, if he has the time to throw. That’s a big if, but if Smith gets the time, West Virginia may not have to run to be effective, and by not running the ball, it may still give LSU as much trouble as possible with its varied passing game. Holgorsen knows how to beat zone and man and the diversity in the passing game will keep LSU off balance most of the game.
Going into the season, I was a bit unsure about the LSU defensive line. Not because I was questioning the talent, but kept saying to myself, "I don’t know who these guys are." But, I, like everyone else, am finding out rapidly that this LSU defensive front may be the best in the nation. Strong, fast, quick, nasty, deep and fast. I mention fast twice because they all can run and that changes things for opposing offenses.
This week, the challenge is different for Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan, Barkevious Mingo and company. Smith is going to throw it about 45 times. He doesn’t want anything or anyone at his feet. The LSU defensive line must push the pocket and help eliminate Smith’s passing lanes between the hashes. If the LSU DL can take away those middle throwing lanes, Smith will have to make long throws outside the numbers consistently. With a quick and aggressive secondary behind that front four, the Tigers defensive backs can take some chances to jump those long throws to produce turnovers and give the ball back to the Tiger offense.
As a group, the LSU defensive line is tremendous, but you may not know many of the names. Don’t worry, you’ll know them soon enough.
You remember the 1980s rap song from one of my favorite groups Whodini “The Freaks come out at Night”? I know you do. Well, in Morgantown, the freaks are going to be out in full force... and I mean that in a nice way. I have seen West Virginia fans sneak a keg into a game before - and that was a day game.
So, with an 8 p.m. EST start, this is going to be one juiced crowd and that’s just the LSU contingent. On the field, West Virginia hasn’t played a full 60 minute game this season. The Marshall game got called after three quarters. It didn’t show up for the first half of the Norfolk State game. It almost got caught in the second half of the Maryland game. If West Virginia can string together four solid quarters of play, it’ll make this a tough night for the visiting Tigers.
However, the Tigers are too quick defensively to eventually not make plays against Smith and the WVU passing game. That’ll be the key difference and the beneficiary will be Tiger RB Spencer Ware and Michael Blue and the running game, carrying it home in the fourth quarter.