Running away with victory

If LSU keeps the ball on the ground, West Virginia will have a long afternoon against one of the SEC's top teams.

When No. 2-ranked LSU travels to No. 16 West Virginia Saturday night in Morgantown, West Va., remember this: The Tigers have won 35 consecutive regular season non-conference games - the longest such streak in college football.

If LSU steps outside the SEC, Les Miles knows how to prepare his team to represent the country's elite conference.

And the Tigers do it with smash-mouth football, an SEC-friendly style of play that Miles has instilled in his players since becoming head coach at Oklahoma State 11 seasons ago.

"His teams were probably the most physical team we faced year in and year out, and that comes from him being an old offensive lineman," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who faced off against Miles from 2001-2004, when Miles was at Oklahoma State and Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech.

"They feed off him and play good, hard, physical football."

Though both coaches have moved on to new jobs in new conferences, Saturday night you will see the same ol' Les.

The LSU offense will huddle up and look to quarterback Jarrett Lee for the call, and more often than not Lee will answer back with a run play.

Holgorsen will put three West Virginia defensive linemen down in its 3-3-5 scheme, which plays into the strengths of an LSU side with a veteran offensive line, talented stable of backs and a quarterback whose more of a game manager than a game changer.

If it were up to Miles, the Tigers would probably use multiple tight ends on every series.

And that might be what LSU needs to do to come home from Morgantown 4-0, which would keep the fast-start Tigers in the thick of the race for a national championship.

On paper it makes sense for Miles to stick to his ways and attack with the run, especially this weekend.

It's strength on weakness.

Over their first three games, the Mountaineers have looked vulnerable when opponents get physical – which is good news for an LSU backfield led by 5-foot-11, 223-pound bruiser Spencer Ware.

In last week's 37-31 West Virginia victory, Maryland running back D.J. Adams, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound sophomore, rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

One better, Adams isn't even offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's starting running back. That title belongs to David Meggett, a 5-foot-9, 215-pound senior who rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown in the loss.

Point being, West Virginia isn't doing enough to stop the run, and it hasn't faced anyone near as talented as Ware.

That isn't good news when Miles is headed your way. LSU is 23-2 under Miles when a back rushes for over 100 yards, and the Tigers are 37-0 in his tenure when rushing for 100-plus yards as a team and holding opponents under 100 yards as a team.

Given the start by Ware and sophomore Michael Ford and shakiness of the Mountaineers run defense, the 38-0 mark doesn't look out of reach.

In past seasons LSU has struggled with finding an offensive identity, and it subsequently cost the team games and kept them too close for comfort in others.

But through three games in 2011, the Tigers have something to call their own.

They have run the football to set up the pass, and the defense and special teams have taken care of the rest. And right now, it looks like a game plan worth riding out.

So this weekend, despite junior wide receiver Russell Shepard being back to the lineup for the first time this season, expect the Tigers to keep it simple and stick with what works.

Unless LSU is playing from behind, Lee won't be asked to shoulder the load. Instead, it will be heavy doses of Ware and Ford.

Coming into the season when Greg Studrawa was asked how his team would approach games like this one, the first-year coordinator made no secret of his desire to win the battle on the ground.

"We are going to come after you and after you and after you," he said. "I don't want to be passive … we are going to be known as a physical group that attacks you."

If that happens Saturday night, it's likely you can chalk LSU up for another regular season, non-conference win.


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