The LSU Tigers come to Morgantown on Saturday night in the biggest game that Mountaineer Field has hosted in eight years. ESPN GameDay will be in town. Couches are cleared from porches. The entire town is simply passing time until this game kicks off. While West Virginia is clearly the underdog and Mountaineer fans have reasons to worry, this Mountaineer fan is completely conflicted. Both terrified and excited, here are three reasons why I'm scared of this game, and three reasons I'm not.
Three Reasons To Be Scared:
The Tiger defensive line. Seriously, be afraid, be very afraid. The only thing more terrifying than the guys LSU runs out there would be lining up against actual Tigers. The Tiger D hasn't given up an offensive touchdown since their season-opening tilt with Oregon. The upshot is that Oregon is a similar team to WVU, and managed three offensive touchdowns. The downside is, of course, the Ducks turned the ball over four times, which sealed the deal for LSU. This front line leads to turnovers, and if the Mountaineers give any up, they can give up hope.
The Mountaineer offensive line. This one goes hand-in-hand with the one above. The Mountaineer o-line has improved ... slightly. Though you wouldn't know it if you were counting say, rushing yardage or defenders in the backfield. Yes, WVU is averaging 42 points per game, but LSU is only giving up 12. If the Mountaineer line can play competently, WVU may be able to split the difference and win the football game. If it can't, it will get beaten harder than the Mountaineer drum line. The Mountaineers will only have to run the ball enough to keep the Bayou Bengals honest, but keeping Geno Smith upright will be the key to the game.
The Tiger offensive line. Yes, the three things that absolutely terrify me about this match all take place in the trenches. I can only assume that Les Miles has digested the tape of the WVU/Maryland game and come to this conclusion: why bother throwing the football? Maryland would have easily dispatched the Mountaineers if they realized that they could move the football wherever they wanted as long as they did it out of the run game. Foolish passing decisions early and late by Maryland cost them the game, but I suspect that the Mad Hatter won't be so crazy. If LSU's front five are knocking the undersized and underwhelming WVU defensive line on its back, it's going to be a long night.
Three Reasons Not To Be Scared:
Geno Smith. Major Harris had "the play" against Penn State. Pat White had "the comeback" against Louisville. Geno Smith has an opportunity to write his name into Mountaineer lore in such a way that it only needs to be known by one word. Let's hope that word is good. Simply put, the Mountaineers are going to need to score a lot to have a chance to beat the Tigers. A ground-and-pound low-scoring grudge match will be won by the Tigers one hundred times out of a hundred. The thing is, slowly but surely, Geno seems to be blossoming into the kind of elite quarterback many in Morgantown expected him to be. He's only thrown one interception this season and that one came on a fluky bounce. Some of his throws have been absolutely beautiful. If Geno can play the game of his life on Saturday night, he might join Harris, White and Marc Bulger in the pantheon of great Mountaineer quarterbacks. For the Mountaineers to win, he'll have to.
Mountaineer Field at night. Sure, I'm a total homer about it, but there is absolutely nothing like a big game at Mountaineer Field under the lights. The Mountaineers, historically, have done quite well in these situations and the potential for them to repeat that success will be there on Saturday night. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that LSU should be scared by the environment, not in the least. The Tigers travel the SEC and see bigger, louder crowds week in and week out. Instead, there is this moment in big Mountaineer games where the importance of sports to this state is crystallized for these young men who have come to Morgantown from all corners of the country for their shot at athletic glory. This game is one of those moments where the Mountaineers who haven't experienced this will understand what this team means to this state. It may just be what puts them over the top.
Absolutely, positively nothing to lose. What does WVU have at stake in this game? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. What happens if WVU loses? The world keeps spinning, the folks at ESPN keep blowing smoke up the skirts of the SEC and life goes on. Lose big, lose close, same effect. At the end of the year when WVU fans look back on this season, whether or not it's a success will hinge entirely on whether or not the ‘Eers win the conference and return to the BCS. West Virginia, historically, has played its best as a underdog, and there are few bigger underdogs on Saturday than the Mountaineers. Then again, what if things go their way? The Mountaineers may just be a force to be reckoned with the rest of the year. If they lose, they lose, but if they win literally anything could happen. The Mountaineers know this, so I expect Dana Holgorsen to have them loose, limber and ready for anything on Saturday night. With that attitude, it might be hard to fail.