WVU's opponent this week is the Bayou Bengals of Louisiana State. Paul Crewe over at SBNation's LSU blog, And The Valley Shook, (who did the same thing last year) was gracious enough to answer a few questions about this week's game and their impressions about the potential for WVU to leave the Big East for the SEC. Their fans are pretty good people, so head on over there, talk some good-natured smack, and see what you can learn from an LSU fan's perspective. After all, we should be getting quite familiar with them in the near future when we share the same conference.
Country Roads: LSU scored 40 points against Oregon at a neutral site, 49 against Northwestern State at home, and 19 on the road against Mississippi State. While nobody would describe the offense as explosive, it is clearly capable of putting up points under the right circumstances. What does WVU need to do to hold LSU below 20 points on Saturday night?
Paul Crewe: Two things stick out. 1) Stop the run. All night. Our running attack has some explosion, but it's general success lies in beating our opponents into submission so that late in the game our 2, 3, 4 yard runs turn into 5, 6 and 7 yard runs. 2) Don't turn the ball over. Our defense has been relentless thus far, and considering our offense hasn't shown the ability to take over a game, giving us the ball in favorable territory will only work against you. Don't let our defense or special teams score... you have to make our offense do the work.CR: Let's talk personnel. Patrick Peterson broke WVU's back with a huge punt return for a TD last year and Drake Nevis dominated up front, but both are gone. Can Tyrann Mathieu (who also had a huge game against WVU last year) and Sam Montgomery bring the same type of defensive playmaking to the table in Morgantown? How does the replacement (for now) of Jordan Jefferson (who played poorly last year) with Jarrett Lee (who has been Craig Krenzel-esque so far) affect the matchup? Does the return of Russell Shepherd have much of an impact on the offense?
PC: Mathieu really has a knack for game-changing plays. If there's any single person on our defense that an offense must account for on every single snap, it's him. Even against Oregon, he induced a false start, which, I believe, killed their drive. He dropped a sure pick 6 in that game as well. And those are just the plays he "didn't make." You'll see him all over the field, terrorizing whoever comes across him. Even if you roll back to last year, while Peterson may have been our best overall player, Mathieu was arguably the bigger "playmaker" on defense. That's kinda his knack... roam and make plays. We kept him in his spot, rather than moving him outside, so that he could continue to do that.
Montgomery is a handful as well. In fact, I'd argue he was our best player last year until the Tennessee game. Downright unblockable at times. But he can be swallowed up in the run game as well. He's aggressive and relentless, but his aggression can be used against him. He's not weak against the run, don't get me wrong, but you definitely want to attack him in the run game, rather than letting him pin his ears back. Really though, the thing to watch is the deep rotation of DL that we will bring. Because any one of the eight or so guys we play at both tackle and end is capable of making plays.
As for Lee, my doubt of him is well documented. In fact, I often use the West Virginia game from last year to point to my concerns (I believe he played 3 snaps, and all 3 of them were near disasters). Regardless, he's emerging as a leader on this team. He's gaining confidence (which he has sorely needed after 3+ years of being taken to the woodshed). He's coming off the best game of his career. He's showed in the past that he can "win a game" in a tough environment (Auburn '08). Yet, at the end of the day, ideally LSU is only going to ask Lee to be a game manager. He needs to operate the run game, and move the sticks with solid throws on 3rd downs. If this ends up a game of Lee having to throw for victory... I'd tilt the odds to WVU. Shepard's return is a mystery to me. Judging by his career, it's difficult to know what to expect, and most of his big plays have come as a RB rather than a WR. I think he'll be big boost on ST, but as for the passing game, I'm unsure. I'm not entirely sure that Odell Beckham Jr. hasn't stolen the type of looks that we'd typically draw up for Shep. He will get some, don't get me wrong. But this isn't Randy Moss returning from suspension either.
CR: Watching the LSU-Mississippi State game last Thursday night, the Tigers basically set up camp in MSU's backfield, racking up an absurd 15 TFL. Given WVU's lack of a running game and wide-open passing attack predicated on quick throws and gaining yards after the catch, how do you see the LSU defense matching up with the WVU offense this year?
PC: Though I have yet to re-watch the Mississippi State game, I do remember (perhaps wrongly) that they were able to burn us on short passing attempts (to an extent). If Geno Smith is able to get rid of the ball quickly and get into a rhythm, that could spell trouble for LSU. Smith should be the most capable passer we've faced to date. Tackling has really been solid thus far (as opposed to shaky performance in 2011). But dedication to form tackling and limiting YAC cannot be emphasized enough this week. Oregon tried a similar strategy and we bottled it up fairly well. But their attack is primarily ground based, whereas you guys will look to attack through the air. Secondary is a strength for LSU, but can they consistently tackle will be the question. Also, we've knocked down a fair number of passes at the line this year. Though I expect no change in approach, they are generally really mindful of keeping their hands up to either knock balls down or at least affect throwing lanes.
CR: I can't image that LSU, who is used to playing in front of raucous crowds in the SEC, is easily rattled. That being said, what do you expect to see in terms of atmosphere for an 8:00 primetime game on ABC with College Gameday's first ever visit to Morgantown? I guarantee as an opposing fan you'll get the most intense tailgating and pregame experience that WVU has to offer. But do you see any chance the home-field advantage swings this one in WVU's favor?
PC: Home-field definitely helps WVU in this game. I've never been there personally, but from everything I've read and heard from unbiased sources suggest this will be the same type of environment as a big-time SEC matchup (Bama, Florida, Auburn, etc.). WVU certainly has their fair share of wild fans, and after a day of boozing, I expect that place to be absolutely amped (particularly with the opportunity to take down a top 3 opponent and prove your national worth under a new and exciting head coach). I don't know if it will be enough to swing the game to WVU, but any LSU fan that acts like the environment is "nothing we haven't seen before" is considerably underestimating their opponent.
CR: Ok, conference realignment. There have been several preliminary reports of WVU joining Texas A&M to be the SEC's 13th and 14th teams. What are your thoughts on the move from the SEC's perspective? Is it a good idea competitively? How about financially? Culturally?
PC: I would be all for WVU in the SEC. Personality/culture wise, it's a natural fit. I'm not sure your rabid fan base fits in the Big 10, or even the ACC. WVU also seems to carry that chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that every school in the SEC (sans Alabama) walks around with. It's that whole objecting to Northern elitist principles, I think.
I think WVU would be plenty competitive in the SEC as well. Sure, they may not compete for conference titles every year as they do in the Big East, but they'd be in the upper half of the league and a team you would not look forward to playing... particularly on the road. You have better history than South Carolina and probably as much, if not more, talent currently. And they are favored to win the East this year. Additionally, it'd be a HUGE boon for basketball in the conference. As for financially, I'm no expert in these terms, but I'd think the opportunity for the SEC to grow their territory and for WVU to have that raised level of national branding would be a win/win for both. Let's not kid ourselves in that "Son, you can play in the SEC" is a big time recruiting pitch that helps every school in this conference.
Again, thanks to Paul Crewe for taking time to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing them on Saturday for some tailgating and SEC-style football.