There had been so much talk about this game for several years now, and everything seemed to be lining up perfect for West Virginia. The Mountaineers had cruised to a powerful 3-0 start, and with one big win Saturday night at LSU, though only thing standing between them and a possible national championship game berth would be a schedule in which they'd likely be favored every time.
But in football, it takes only a few mistakes for the best-laid opportunities to fall to the wayside. Missed opportunities and turnovers doomed No. 22 West Virginia’s 20-14 loss to No. 15 LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday night, one that took a chunk out of what many had hoped would be a storybook season in Morgantown.
"That was a tough one to lose, and it is going to stick with me for a long time," said West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart. "It is going to stick with our staff and more importantly it is going to stick with our seniors.”
Early in the first quarter, the Mountaineers (3-1) looked like they were going to take an early lead in their quest for a win that would catapult them into the national championship conversation. After Keith Tandy intercepted a Jordan Jefferson pass, WVU was set for a what would seem to be an easy 28-yard field goal. But Tyler Bitancurt’s kick was blocked, keeping the score tied at 0-0 and setting the stage for a nigh full of disappointment.
On West Virginia’s next drive, Ryan Clarke he fumbled at the WVU six, and it was recovered by the Tigers. It took LSU four downs to take advantage as the ‘Eers defense nearly stonewalled the Tigers, but LSU (4-0) took advantage of the miscue, scoring on a one-yard run by running back Stevan Ridley.
From there, the Mountaineers had a tough time getting anything going offensively, largely due to a Noel Devine foot injury that seemed to hamper him for much of the game. He saw his Heisman trophy hopes fade considerably, ending with a very un-Devine-like 37 yards on 14 carries.
A 49-yard field goal by Josh Jasper made it 10-0, and West Virginia’s special teams woes--absent for most of the 2010 season—continued to haunt the Mountaineers.
In the week heading into the game, many people were talking about the effect that LSU defensive back Patrick Peterson could have on the game, especially in the return game. And like clockwork, he returned a punt 60 yards untouched for the touchdown that extended the LSU lead to 17-0.
Like that, the Tigers had scored 17 points, while posting just 16 yards of total offense. West Virginia would never fully recover from the miscues, though the ‘Eers didn’t go quietly.
With less than two minutes to go in the first half, the desperate Mountaineers took a risk, going for it on fourth-and-one and converting on a two-yard run by Geno Smith.
Three plays later they scored on a five-yard touchdown strike from Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey.
WVU kept the momentum at the second half’s start. Eain Smith picked off a pass and returned it 38 yards, setting the Mountaineer offense up with great field position for and an eventual 13-yard touchdown catch by Jock Sanders to cut the LSU lead to just three.
The final scoring play of the game came on the first play of the fourth quarter when Jasper connected on a 23-yard field goal.
West Virginia’s kicking game failed to pick up three points again later in the fourth when Tyler Bitancurt missed a 48-yarder, and needing a touchdown to take the lead, the ‘Eers final two drives sputtered quickly. Two missed field goals and a punt return touchdown weren’t the only undoing for WVU on this night, but they did account for 13 points in a six-point loss.
“I do not like missing two field goals. I do not like giving up a punt return. I do not like us not handling the pressure, and I do not like being able to capitalize and trading touchdowns for turnovers,” Stewart said. “That is not funny to me.”
Smith completed 14 of 29 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Jock Sanders caught five passes for 47 yards and a score.
For an LSU offense that struggled most of the night, Stevan Ridley led the Tigers, carrying the ball 20 times for 116 yards. Peterson picked up 86 return yards, including the 60-yard touchdown.
The Mountaineers have next week off and will take on UNLV on October 9.