West Virginia's rally falls short to LSU

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Sometimes it is quick and painless.

Sometimes it drags out, extended and agonizing.

But it is called Death Valley for a reason; a predictable demise seemingly always meets the visitor who ambles into this stadium.

Saturday night, it was West Virginia, which fell behind early and could never overcome LSU, dropping a 20-14 decision to the 15th-ranked Tigers.

The victory pushed LSU's record under coach Les Miles to 26-1 in home night games, with the squad's lone loss coming last season against Florida, ranked No. 1 at the time.

This one, Saturday night for the No. 22 Mountaineers (3-1) looked, initially, as if it would be quick when they fell behind, 17-0, in the first 21 minutes.

The Mountaineers, showed resilience, picked themselves up and fought back, even as they had to overcome the hostility of not just the LSU players, but the 92,575 inside the largely partisan venue.

No matter -- a loss is a loss.

"You are always disappointed when you lose," said West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, whose unit kept the Mountaineers in this one. "It is about winning."

West Virginia cut the score to 17-14 in the fourth quarter and had the ball twice in the final 8:49, down six points, needing to mount deep drives to win.

Both times the Mountaineers had to punt and watched the Tigers (4-0) melt the clock into the muggy Louisiana night.

This surely wasn't Marshall, when sophomore quarterback Geno Smith mounted two stellar drives to tie the score before West Virginia won in overtime.

No, in this one at the end, the offense looked painfully out of sorts -- one time in the waning minutes, Smith lined up under the guard before running back Noel Devine nudged him to where he needed to be, under center.

It was indicative of a West Virginia offense that sputtered throughout, going 2 for 13 on third down.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart was, however, terse and short in his postgame news conference.

"What I saw was two missed field goals and a punt return," Stewart responded quizzical when asked of his team's offensive woes.

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This much, this result, was expected to many -- particularly the way the Big East Conference has fared when its membership has stepped out of conference this season against some of the big boys in college football.

The Big East is 1-10 against teams from conferences with automatic Bowl Championship Series bids. The lone victory for the conference came last week, when West Virginia beat a Maryland team that won two games as year ago. The Big East went 0-4 this week on two nationally televised games -- this one, and Pitt's loss Thursday night against Miami.

In fairness to West Virginia, it made the trip to the bayou banged up to begin with, and then absorbed a huge blow early. The Mountaineers played without starting linebacker Pat Lazear for much of the game and offensive lineman Josh Jenkins for the entire game.

But, there was also an unforeseen injury.

In the first quarter, Devine -- who finished with 14 rushes for 37 yards -- sustained a bruised toe, and noticeably was hobbled the remainder of the game. The fallout from Devine's injury had a deep negative impact, allowing the Tigers to take a 17-7 halftime lead.

On West Virginia's third offensive drive, running back Ryan Clarke -- spelling the injured Devine -- fumbled at his own 10, giving the ball away to LSU. The Tigers turned that miscue into a Stevan Ridley 1-yard touchdown run, had a 49-yard field goal from kicker Josh Jasper early in the second quarter and a dazzling Patrick Peterson 48-yard punt return for their 17 opening-half points.

A West Virginia touchdown just before the half -- when Stedman Bailey pulled in a 5-yard pass from Geno Smith -- cut it to 17-7.

West Virginia narrowed it even more, with Smith finding Jock Sanders from 13 yards for the lone points of the third to make it 17-14.

Jasper's second field goal, on the first play of the fourth from 23 yards, put the Tigers up, 20-14, a score that held.

It held becauseLSU, far and above, was better than any West Virginia had seen this year.

"A lot better, a lot faster," Bailey said. "Across the board."

NOTES -- The indefinite suspension to starting senior cornerback Brandon Hogan was lifted, as he started at his traditional "field" corner spot. Hogan was arrested for driving under the influence in Morgantown early Sept. 12 and missed one game, Maryland last week.

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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