LSU safety Brandon Taylor doesn’t believe West Virginia should score on the Tigers’ defense. That’s a pretty bold statement considering LSU has yet to shut out anyone this year and the Mountaineers are led by one of the nation’s most prolific offenses.
In yet another marquee matchup with a Top 25 opponent, the second-ranked Tigers try to back up Taylor’s words when they visit No. 16 West Virginia on Saturday night.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have LSU as a six-point road favorite, with the total set at 49 1/2.
LSU (3-0) was expecting a strong test defensively last Thursday against then-No. 25 Mississippi State, which had scored 93 points and racked up 1,176 yards of offense in its first two games at Memphis and Auburn. The Tigers, however, proved to be too strong, limiting the Bulldogs to 193 total yards and two field goals in a 19-6 victory.
“I kind of expected them to score like one touchdown,” Taylor said of Mississippi State. “But seeing that we held them to (none) … I have a lot more confidence in our defense – not to a point where we’re cocky, but that we just know we should hold ourselves accountable and hold ourselves to that high ranking and we shouldn’t let anybody score on us. Not even West Virginia.”
That seems like a tall order, seeing as the Mountaineers (3-0) are 15th in the FBS in scoring at 42.0 points per game, having amassed 1,013 yards in their last two contests.
Although they gave up two touchdowns, the Tigers thoroughly frustrated West Virginia’s offense in a 20-14 home victory last September, the only previous meeting between these programs. LSU limited the Mountaineers to 177 total yards and forced two turnovers.
West Virginia would seem to have an advantage in the rematch by playing in Morgantown, where it has won 16 of 17, but LSU has won 35 straight non-conference games in the regular season – the longest streak in the nation – since losing to Virginia Tech in its 2002 season opener.
West Virginia is the third non-conference opponent of 2011 for LSU, and also the third ranked foe. The Tigers, who beat then-No. 3 Oregon 40-27 in their season opener, are the only program that will have played three Top 25 opponents in its first four games.
“They’ve been in two big games this year and have handled each opponent pretty easily,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “To say it’s not going to be a challenge would be crazy.”
The Mountaineers are coming off last Saturday’s 37-31 win at Maryland, where Geno Smith threw for a career-high 388 yards with a touchdown while Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney each had at least 100 yards receiving.
Although the offense marched down the field early against the Terrapins, leading 34-10 midway through the third quarter, it only added another field goal and nearly allowed Maryland to pull off an amazing comeback.
“We didn’t put together four solid quarters,” said Smith, who ranks fourth in the FBS in passing yards with 1,008 along with seven touchdowns. “We did good in the first half. We moved the ball. They responded. They stopped us. We need to come back and show more effort and play harder.”
Playing two good halves seems imperative against the Tigers, who rank sixth in the FBS in total defense at 207.7 yards per game. They’ve forced seven turnovers and recorded 31 tackles for loss – including 15 against Mississippi State, their most in a game since getting 17 against Auburn on Sept. 18, 1999.
“I expected this to be a very good defense and there is no surprise here,” coach Les Miles said. “If the defense continues to play with that intensity, it has the opportunity to be a special defense.”
While most figured LSU would have a strong defense and running game, the expectations for quarterback Jarrett Lee weren’t nearly as lofty at the start of the season, but the senior quarterback is showing he can be counted on to lead the offense in place of the suspended Jordan Jefferson.
Lee passed for 213 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs, and has completed 30 of 37 passes in the last two games.
“I feel like I’m becoming a more mature player,” said Lee, who threw 16 interceptions as a freshman in 2008 before spending most of the last two seasons on the bench. “Really developing.”
Playing with a strong running game helps, and LSU’s certainly qualifies. Spencer Ware and Michael Ford have combined for 444 yards and seven touchdowns.