BATON ROUGE -- Through four games even the most casual Tiger fan knows the routine.
Special Teams? Check.
Offense? Check back later.
The running game has been on point ever since Stevan Ridley fumbled twice in the opener against North Carolina. On Saturday, the junior carried the ball a season-high 20 times for 116 yards and a touchdown.
As for Jordan Jefferson and the passing game, it was a night of opportunities squandered – from drops to missed throws. In a game where he was eventually benched for backup Jarrett Lee, Jefferson finished 10-of-22 for 75 yards and two interceptions.
“Our football team is playing great on defense,” Miles said. “They are playing very good on special teams. We can run the football well. We didn’t throw it as well as we would have liked. Our quarterback play has got to be better. It’s just that simple. Our guys know it.”
The first two offensive series of the game ended in a Jefferson interception and a punt, the latter of which came after the Tigers were flagged for penalties three times in the possession.
The third series proved to be the charm, though field position – thanks to the quick-strike ability of the Bayou Bengals defense - couldn’t have been more ideal. After senior defensive tackle Drake Nevis forced the fumble by West Virginia running back Ryan Clarke, freshman Tyrann Mathieu scooped the loose ball at the Mountaineers 10-yard line.
Four plays later, Ridley took a fourth-down carry in for the one-yard score.
LSU then settled for a Josh Jasper 49-yard field goal on their next possession, moving the score to 10-0 with 12:01 in the second quarter.
Having already blocked an attempted field goal, LSU’s special teams unit then stepped up for their biggest moment of week four. Once more, the impact – and six points – came from return man Patrick Peterson, who took the WVU punt back 60 yards for the score, his second of the season.
When he crossed the goalline, the junior, in Desmond Howard fashion, struck the Heisman pose.
“I was caught up in the moment,” said Peterson, who has been on a Heisman-like tear over the opening four weeks of the season. “I’ve just got to control myself on the celebration.”
Down 17 points, WVU broke onto the board with a 10-play, 53-yard scoring drive that took the first-half clock under a minute. After the halftime whistle the Mountaineers picked up where they left off, striking on a two-play scoring drive that narrowed the home team’s lead to three with 12:22 to play.
Jefferson and the offense’s lone scoring drive of extended yardage came late in the third and into the fourth quarters, moving it 72 yards on 14 plays to take the six-point lead on a field goal by Jasper.
The 20-14 mark stood until game’s end, though the same couldn’t be said for LSU’s starting quarterback. With 6:43 left in the contest, Jefferson was benched – for a series – for Lee.
“We needed a change right there,” Miles said. “We put in (Jarrett) Lee. Lee came in; he made a pass, and he did some things we wanted him to do, and then, we wanted to run the clock out, and we felt better with Jefferson running the clock out. That’s why we put him back in.”
Whether or not the passing game can find its footing before the thick of the conference schedule remains to be seen, but Miles is confident that his team is on course to remain unbeaten.
“I think that defense is going to be tough to move on,” he said. “I think our special teams is a reason that we win. If the offense can throw it a little bit better and continue to run it like we have, we might see if we can parlay this team into a little better position than the 4-0 position that we are currently in. That’s how I see it.”
The Tiger defense held the high-powered Mountaineers offense to 58 yards rushing and 119 yards receiving, their lowest outputs to date. Speedster Noel Devine was held in check to the tune of 41 yards on 14 carries, while quarterback Geno Smith was 14-of-29 with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I felt pretty confident with that defense on the field, and I felt like the game was really in control,” Miles said. “That may not be the case when we play our best opponents, but by that time, we’ll be better. That’s certainly the call to the team, to get better. We understand it. I don’t think there is a guy in that locker room that doesn’t understand that we need to improve and that we’ll work hard at it.”