No. 2 LSU routs WVU for late victory, 47-21
West Virginia's Darwin Cook, middle, looks to corral a loose ball in the Mountaineers' game vs. No. 2 LSU Saturday night.
LSU's Jarrett Lee passed for three touchdowns in the first half as the Tigers built an early lead.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- No. 2 LSU forced four turnovers on its way to a dominating 47-21 victory against No. 16 West Virginia Saturday night under the glare of the national spotlight.
Just when the Mountaineers started to creep back into the game with two second-half touchdown drives, special teams let them down in front of 62,056 on Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
LSU's Morris Claiborne weaved his way 99 yards on a kick return to stamp the Tigers win.
"We got beat by a great football team," said West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team fell to 3-1. "They're a smarter football team than we are right now."
The Mountaineers amassed great numbers, outgaining the Tigers (4-0) in total offense, 533-366 yards.
Geno Smith passed for 463 yards, throwing a remarkable 65 times. He completed 38 passes and was picked off twice.
But the costly turnovers sealed it.
"This game came down to turnovers," said receiver Tavon Austin, who caught 11 passes for 187 yards. "You eliminate the turnovers, it's a different game."
LSU had taken a 27-7 halftime lead thanks to dynamic corner Tyrann Mathieu, who set up two scores.
Mathieu forced a first-quarter fumble, then intercepted Smith at the West Virginia 20 and returned it 19 yards to the 1.
Both led to touchdowns and a lead that seemed insurmountable.
To open the second half, LSU dropped a touchdown pass, then missed a field goal, a sequence of events that breathed some life into West Virginia.
Smith reeled off a nice drive and finished with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Urban to make it 27-14.
Two possessions later, Tavon Austin's 72-yard reception set up a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Dustin Garrison to make it 27-21 with 1:16 to play in the third quarter.
Then Claiborne struck, sucking the life back out of the crowd.
The loss comes at an interesting time for the Mountaineers program, just a week after Pitt and Syracuse defected from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference, spawning fear for the future of West Virginia athletics.
A quick start was paramount.
So was protecting the ball.
"What's done is done," Mountaineers running back Dustin Garrison said. "We've just got to get better. You got to learn from your mistakes."
The Mountaineers turned the ball over twice on their first three possessions.
The Tigers went 68 yards on their first possession to lead, 7-0, with barely five minutes elapsed in the game.
Mathieu forced a fumble by Brad Starks to negate a 16-yard gain on a pass play, and LSU safety Brandon Taylor intercepted a pass that bounced off the helmet of Austin. Taylor returned it 10 yards to the 50.
LSU made West Virginia pay on the second, driving quickly to make it 13-0, with a missed extra point.
Just when things looked particularly bleak, Smith brought some tempo back and engineered a 12-play drive that included a completion to Austin on a fourth-and-4.
Three plays later, Stedman Bailey caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to make it 13-7 with the extra point.
LSU countered with Jarrett Lee's 52-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. on third-and-1 to make it 20-7 with 6:57 to go until halftime.
Then another turnover -- with 37 seconds to play in the half.
Mathieu batted down a pass by Smith on third-and-long from the 25 and returned it 19 yards to the 1.
From there, LSU needed a mere two plays to convert on a 1-yard pass to Chase Clement.
NOTES -- LB Josh Francis started over Casey Vance at linebacker. ... All-American linebacker Darryl Talley was honored at the game. He will be inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame Dec. 6.
First Published September 25, 2011 12:34 am