2011 Tigers don’t deal in imaginary numbers
For Gennaro Filice’s Snap Judgments from Saturday’s early games, click here; the evening games are here. For Andy Staples’ column on Oklahoma State-Texas A&M, click here. For Stewart Mandel’s Alabama-Arkansas column, click here. For more video highlights from SI.com, click here. There, you’re caught up.
MORGANTOWN – For all Les Miles’ Mad Hatter designations, and they are many and deserved, the 2011 LSU Tigers have a by-the-numbers plan that’s now carried them past three ranked teams away from home in four weeks of play. The No. 2 Bayou Bengals’ same old tricks on defense (they’re fond of one scheme in particular where every one of their defenders is better than every one of their opponents’, by an oft-embarrassing margin), lockstep special teams play and a continued glaring lack of mistakes from Jarrett Lee powered them past the No. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers, 47-21, in a kind of clenched-teeth cruise control. ( RECAP | BOX )
The crucial figures:
• 3, 4, 5, 11, 8, 9. The yard lines in Mountaineer territory where punter Brad Wing dropped diabolically placed balls on his six punts. (Out of action due to injury since Week 1, Wing appears to have made a full recovery.)
• 0. The number of interceptions tossed by LSU. It’s finally here. Welcome to the Jarrett Lee paradigm shift, y’all.
• 299 792 458 m / s. The speed of light, also observed this season as the speed at which LSU’s latest freakshow defense gets through opponents’ lines and past their receivers. Geno Smith’s protection gave him all night and more to turn his passes loose; the problems tended to occur more with what happened once the ball got where it was going. Smith attempted a whopping 65 passes on the evening, connecting on a grand total of 38.
• 4. Abetting the Tigers tonight were West Virginia’s turnover margin and special teams play, led by four lost balls for the Mountaineers. LSU was outgained 533-366, but their forward progress, you’ll notice, happened to take their players across the goal line with considerably greater frequency. A 99-yard kick return from Morris Claiborne took the air out of a WVU team that had just scored back-to-back third-quarter touchdowns for a tangible momentum swing. Those turnovers (and an interestingly consistent streak of injuries to LSU defensive players) wrested that tempo control Holgorsen covets so dearly from his hand, and with a team this young and a scheme this new, talent alone wasn’t enough to make up the difference against an LSU outfit that’s looking less and less every week like they’re going to stop and pick up their usual two losses en route to a BCS bowl.
It’s quite a haul to Morgantown from Baton Rouge, to be sure (an LSU fan on the way in told us a tale of a chartered bus breaking down in the middle of Maryland somewhere, and the Tigers faithful it contained spilling out to rent a fleet of 20 cabs to ferry them the rest of the way to West Virginia), but as should probably be expected from a team playing in Death Valley on the regular, the contentious environment didn’t seem to be an influencing factor in the outcome. At a 13-point deficit, Mountaineer partisans were hollering like the game was tied. Down 40-21, there remained a volume of students in seats that would put certain SEC fanbases to shame. There were moments what announcers charitably refer to as “chippy behavior” on the field, and a horde of Old Gold-clad fans on hand to holler, but apart from an early delay of game penalty, LSU kept it together. (And speaking of penalties, rest easy, fearers of Penn Wagers: Steadman Bailey did a little touchdown dance in the first quarter that passed by unremarked, so it’s entirely possible the touchdown-revoking celebration rule is being reasonably enforced this year.)
Two names to take away from this evening: Wing, who should be at the forefront of all kinds of awards discussions as a field position war machine, and Tyrann Mathieu, who was drawing sincere vocal comparisons to Patrick Peterson in the press box with a key forced fumble on the Mountaineers’ first drive (Mathieu’s seventh in 17 games, tying an LSU school record) and an interception to stymie WVU’s final scoring drive of the first half.
All this is no stain on West Virginia, which is comporting itself admirably for a squad coming out of a monstrously tumultuous offseason and operating under a rookie head coach. If there’s justice in this world, LSU’s looking at a No. 1 ranking on Monday. Plenty more good teams are going to lose to them before 2011 is out. And if I may add, after a day in Morgantown: If there are open eyeballs attached to certain major conference bigwigs directed this way, may they be downcast with shame at having denied such a relentlessly vibrant program an escape from the Big East. West Virginia belongs in a power conference the way LSU belongs in the national title discussion — like it’s the most natural thing in the world.