Who has the edge? LSU at WVU

TigerSportsDigest.com breaks down Saturday's matchup between the No. 2-ranked Tigers and 16th-ranked Mountaineers by position

ANALYSIS: #2 LSU at #16 West Virginia

Holgorsen knows Tigers will be a challenge

TSD Thursday night chat transcript

TigerSportsDigest.com staff picks: Week 4

Who has the edge?


Quarterback: West Virginia

It’s hard after three games to call Geno Smith a perfect match to first-year Mountaineers’ coach Dana Holgorsen’s pass-based spread offense. It may not be for much longer, though. Smith is generating 336 yards a game through the air with a 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Jarrett Lee has been good this season in large part because of the players around him. Smith has emerged as the player who makes the other WVU players better.


Running back: LSU

Michael Ford

Not much of a contest here. Either Spencer Ware or Michael Ford would be the bell-cow back for the Mountaineers if they switched uniforms. Not sure any of WVU’s backs would see the field for LSU. That’s in part due to the nature of the Mountaineers’ offensive method, but a bigger part is how effective Ware and Ford have both proven to be this season.


Receivers/tight ends: West Virginia

Tavon Austin

Just like the WVU backs’ lack of production is a result of the offense, the Mountaineers’ receivers are the better group in this matchup because of how Holgorsen orchestrates the offense. Tavon Austin (20 catches-236 yards-1 TD), Ivan McCartney (17-211-2) and Stedman Bailey (15-229-2) give WVU a myriad of passing-game targets and those three as a whole give their team a narrow advantage against the best receiver on either sideline, Tigers’ junior Rueben Randle.


Offensive line: LSU

West Virginia’s line is solid with the first five, especially a trio of veterans at left tackle Don Barclay (64), center Joe Madsen (74) and left guard Jeff Braun (57). But those three are joined by a pair of new starters this season and there’s not a whole lot of depth. LSU’s o-line, on the other hand, has been like the Energizer Bunny. No matter who gets hurt or who’s struggling, the Tigers simply just keep on going and going and going…


Defensive line: LSU

Michael Brockers

Similarly to the receiver spot where volume and depth won out, LSU has an edge on the defensive front. WVU’s front three features two of the more prolific pass rushers in college football in end Bruce Irvin (14 sacks in 2010) and tackle Julian Miller (21½ career sacks), but those two have only dropped opposing QBs once this season between them. The Tigers front four and the second wave behind them have combined for 19 tackles for loss and spearhead a suffocating rush defense.


Linebackers: Even

Najee Goode

This is the ambiguous layer of both team’s defenses, although the Tigers and Mountaineers both feature a player capable of dominating the game from the middle layer – Ryan Baker for LSU and Najee Goode, WVU’s leading tackler with 23 stops. After that, though, there hasn’t been a major game-changer at linebacker for either team. If either crew gets a big night from one of the supporting-cast LBs, that would be a major shot in the arm.


Secondary: LSU

Morris Claiborne

Each week is another exercise in beating the drum, but it’s going to take a special group of players to top what LSU can trot out in the secondary. WVU has one top-caliber DB in cornerback Keith Tandy, who has swiped nine passes the last two seasons (none yet this season) and has been busy this season with 19 tackles. But the Tigers’ five starters at corner, safety and nickel back are as good a group as any in the country. And senior Ron Brooks is likely to get plenty of time in LSU’s mustang package, giving the Tigers another playmaker against the Mountaineers’ high-energy passing game.


Special teams: West Virginia

It’s not very often LSU runs into a team better across the board in the kicking game, but this may be one of those occasions. The Mountaineers are solid in every facet of special teams, anchored by Austin’s 22-yard average on punt returns and a 29.4-yard average on kickoffs, including a 100-yard touchdowns burst. Corey Smith has been equally as effective as the punter and kickoff specialist, producing 42.3 yards per punt and 64.9 yards on kicks. Placekicker Tyler Bitancurt has been close to automatic, connecting on 7-of-8 field goals  and all 15 point-after kicks.


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