Playing fast but not loose
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- If there is a more daunting defense West Virginia will face this season than LSU, statistics certainly do not show it.
The No. 2-ranked Tigers have the nation's third-ranked rushing defense, sixth-ranked total defense and 15th-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 12 points a game.
Saturday night, they will bring their soul-crushing brand of defense to Mountaineer Field to try to wreck Geno Smith's attack any way they can.
"It's a group made up of very talented individuals, not just from the state of Louisiana, but all over," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "Their defensive coordinator is very well respected, knows what he's doing. He gets those guys to play with a whole lot of effort. Looks to me like they're pretty excited to play. And that's a challenge."
To open the season, the Tigers held Oregon to 95 yards rushing, forced their way into the backfield to pressure quarterback Darron Thomas into quick throws and forced four turnovers.
Last week, against Mississippi State, the defense held the Bulldogs to 52-yards rushing, amassed 15 tackles for loss and held the team's total offense to 193 yards, nearly 400 yards below its season average.
"They have some good players, they like to man up, they play fast," said Smith. "We look forward to playing good teams and tough opponents. I'm going to play my game, go out with the same mentality."
LSU's most striking characteristic on defense may be its depth.
Through three games, 17 of 21 players on the two-deep have registered a tackle for a loss.
"One thing that's concerning is they don't play just 11 people," said Holgorsen. "They have tremendous depth on both sides of the ball."
Countering the depth, speed and quickness to the ball will be paramount for Smith and his offense.
Holgorsen said he does not expect LSU will struggle with West Virginia's tempo.
"Nobody goes faster than Oregon. We don't go faster than Oregon, and they handled their tempo just fine," said Holgorsen.
His offense will just have to find ways to make plays, spread the field and use everyone.
"The biggest challenge going against a defense that good, talented, you got to take advantage of the little space you have," said Holgorsen. "We're going to have to throw into receivers who are covered, sustain blocks a little longer. If they're playing zone, and we got a guy open in the middle, that hole is going to close quick. The speed of the game is going to have to increase."
LSU has forced seven turnovers in three games, making ball security of paramount concern for the Mountaineers.
But, said receiver Tyler Urban, the bottom line is finding a way to win in front of an electric home crowd.
"They're going to give us man, so we need to beat their defense one-on-one and, hopefully, take advantage," said Urban. "We take it the same way, but there's a little more buzz, and a little more excitement getting prepared for this one."
NOTES -- Holgorsen knows LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee from his days in Texas. Lee has taken over for suspended quarterback Jordan Jefferson. "I've known him and his parents for a long time. Things didn't work out as well as he would have liked early in his career, but, based on what kind of kid he is and based on his upbringing, he hung in there, and it's good to see him get a chance. He's taking advantage of that situation." ... Wide receiver Tavon Austin, who caught 11 passes for more than 100 yards Saturday at Maryland, had surgery on a broken finger since the game. "I had surgery, a couple screws in there. I'm good now, I'm a fast healer, so I'm good," said Austin.
NCAA Div. I-A
1. Kansas State 164.0
2. Central Florida 166.0
3. Alabama 170.0
4. Michigan State 192.3
5. Florida State 195.0
6. LSU 207.6
7. Florida 209.3
8. Virginia Tech 224.6
First Published September 21, 2011 12:00 am