WVU travels to Death Valley in Baton Rouge this Saturday night to take on the LSU Tigers. It's easily the biggest non-conference road test for the Mountaineers in a decade. That said, Mountaineer Nation seems despondent. Vegas has the Mountaineers as eight-and-a-half-point underdogs, and the general consensus here in Morgantown is that the 'Eers don't stand a chance. That doesn't mean the 'Eers couldn't shock college football and pull off the upset. Here are five reasons why it could happen:
1. WVU is remarkably successful against the SEC - Don't look now, but the Mountaineers are 4-1 in their last five meetings with SEC foes (all since '05). The 'Eers have swept the Mississippi State Bulldogs, split a series with the Auburn Tigers and shocked the Georgia Bulldogs (at a "neutral" site, but in the state of Georgia, for what it's worth). Not exactly murderer's row, but something to build on. The last five years have seen the Mountaineers increase the quality of competition from MSU, to Auburn and now to LSU. This team is not going to be scared of the Tigers, a team that tried unsuccessfully to recruit Noel Devine and Geno Smith. Some SEC teams may still have an other-worldly intimidation factor in the Mountaineer locker room, but LSU isn't one of them.
2. WVU's offense is no longer a one-trick pony - The Mountaineers didn't fare well against well-prepared foes during the "Run Rich Rod, Run" Era, principally because they were unable to go with their second or third offensive options. With Geno under center there's a well balanced attack that will take what the defenses give it, which is the key to winning a close game. Geno will keep the ball away from LSU's all-world defensive back Patrick Peterson and find receivers in space. Devine, Sanders and Austin might not be able to run away from LSU's speed, but short passes to the open man should put the Mountaineers in field goal position enough to put some points on the board.
3. Twenty points wins this game - The first team to twenty points will win this one, as it will be a low-scoring defensive grudge-match. While the Tiger Defense is terrifying, their offense looks like a bunch of kittens. LSU is ranked 115th in the nation in passing offense and 32nd in rushing offense. They have trouble moving the ball, and their play-calling has been predictable. Simply put, if the Mountaineers can stop the run, the Tigers won't be putting a lot of points on the board. WVU has given up three loooooooooooong passing touchdowns this season, so look for LSU to attempt to exploit that. That said, if LSU starts throwing the ball early and often, WVU may have already won.
4. How good is that LSU defense, really? - They're the fifth-ranked defense in the nation, so you have to respect that. That said, they got there by holding abysmal Vandy and Mississippi State teams to three and seven points, respectively. When facing a good North Carolina team (missing, like, half its players, I may point out) they gave up 24 points and almost lost the game in the waning moments. So yes, their defense is good, but not that good. The verdict is still out on both of these teams, and it's hard to make sweeping judgments based on early season performances but I'm not anointing the Tiger defense as the second coming of the Steel Curtain quite yet.
5. The Mountaineers are right where they want to be - Which is, under the radar. You know LSU isn't looking past the Mountaineers, but when the next two Tiger opponents are SEC Rivals Tennessee and Florida, you can bet the Tigers aren't scared. They're comfortable. They're playing at home. This game is only a middle-of-the-pack game on their schedule. This game is no big deal to them. To the Mountaineers, roles are reversed since last Friday's tension-filled defeat of Marshall. This time, the Mountaineers are the team with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Everyone in the Mountaineer locker room knows that a loss in the Bayou won't be the end of the world, but that a win will reap great dividends the rest of the season. I expect the Mountaineers will play fast and loose and Geno Smith to capitalize on his opportunity for a big win on a big stage.
Final Score: 16-14 Mountaineers. It won't be easy, and it will surely be ugly. It will be hotly-contested for the full sixty, but when Josh Jasper misses a long field goal as the clock expires, Morgantown's streets will shine with the light of burning couches.