West Virginia doesn’t mind being the underdog. The Mountaineers, in fact, thrive when nobody gives them a chance. See: 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
They’llbe up against long odds again—nine point underdogs, according to Las Vegas--on Saturday night when the No. 21 Mountaineers head to Death Valley to take on No. 12 LSU.
“My best friend (Kelvin Sheppard) is a linebacker there,” West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin said. “We were texting yesterday and they really don’t think we can beat them.
“We’re going to have to prove them wrong.”
If Irvin and the rest of his teammates are to prove people wrong, it means going into Tiger Stadium on Saturday night with more than 92,000 screaming fans. This West Virginia team has been in some tough environments in the past, like Auburn last season, but nothing will be able to prepare them for what it will be like to step into the Tiger’s Den this weekend.
“We’ve never been in that kind of atmosphere,” running back Noel Devine said. “That’s when you just want to go in and quiet all of the critics, quiet their fans and just go play ball and show the people in the country what we’re capable of doing.”
Devine, of course, leads the way for the Mountaineer running game, with 354 yards and two touchdowns through the first three games of the year.
The potential Heisman candidate will have his work cut out for him against a Tiger defense that has only given up 241 yards this year. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who has 27 tackles and defensive lineman Drake Nevis (3.5 sacks) lead an LSU defense that will likely be the fastest WVU sees all year.
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the weekend, however, will be between the West Virginia passing offense and the LSU secondary.
Since he led West Virginia to a dramatic comeback win over Marshall a couple of weeks ago, sophomore quarterback Geno Smith has played fantastic football.
In fact, since the Mountaineers’ first scoring drive in that fourth quarter comeback against the Thundering Herd, Smith has completed an eye-opening 35 of 49 passes for 436 yards and five touchdowns. Not bad for about five quarters of work.
But Marshall and Maryland’s pass defenses don’t compare to what Smith is going to see from LSU this weekend.
The secondary is led two junior defensive backs, safety Brandon Taylor and cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Taylor started ten games last year and finished with 41 tackles and two picks.
Peterson is not only one of the best defensive backs in the nation, but is also considered one of the best players. His name has been thrown around in talk about Heisman Trophy candidates.
The junior out of Pompano Beach, Fla., is also one of the top return men in the nation. He two interceptions and is averaging 23.9 yards per punt return and 31.7 yards per kick return.
“(Peterson) is tremendous,” West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said in his press conference on Tuesday.
“He should be up for the Heisman. The guy is the best defensive player in the country.”
Luckily for Smith and the Mountaineers, the sophomore quarterback has already had a little bit of experience against the LSU star corner. During Smith’s junior season at Miramar High School, his team took on Ely High School (featuring the No. 1 cornerback recruit in the nation, Peterson).
Smith said that they won the game, but wouldn’t give any details.
“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to talk about it,” Smith said during player interviews earlier in the week. “We don’t want to give them any locker room material, so I’ll just say that we won the game.”
Well, as it turns out, Miramar did win. Big: 52-16.
Smith went off in that game, throwing for 400 yards and six touchdowns, two of which going to another current Mountaineer, wide receiver Stedman Bailey.
It’s unlikely, though, that the Mountaineer passing attack will have that much success against Peterson and the Tigers defense come Saturday when they step into Death Valley.
Offensively, dual-threat quarterback Jordan Jefferson leads LSU. He’s thrown for 344 yards and two touchdowns this year, spreading the ball around quite a bit.
In the first three games, seven receivers have caught passes for the Tigers, led by Rueben Randle’s 10 grabs for 135 yards and a touchdown.
LSU has three running backs that see time in the backfield. Stevan Ridley will likely take the bulk of the carries and Alfred Blue and Richard Murphy will see time.
Ridley has carried the ball 55 times for 318 yards and two scores this year.
Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. on Saturday and the game will be televised on ESPN2.