1) LSU was without Brad Wing (small thigh contusion) for the Northwestern State and Mississippi State games, which forced walk-on D.J. Howard into the starting punter role. Wing returned to practice during the week of preparation for West Virginia, and made the biggest statement of his young career when he punted six times for 292 yards (48.7 average) – with all six punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Wing, who sent a few kicks rolling inside the 10-yard-line, was fortunate to receive a couple of LSU bounces that rolled the ball deep into West Virginia territory, an added advantage of a punting style he picked up through his Australian rules football upbringing.
“I think it’s helped me a lot with the way I kick it, and it’s benefitting the team pretty good,” Wing said.
Wing earned SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
2) Wing was huge for the Tigers, but his wasn’t the only leg that first-year special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey is probably giddy about following the win over the Mountaineers.
From the opening kickoff – a strike from Hairston that West Virginia return man Tavon Austin caught at the 3-yard line – it was evident that “replaced by” might be a better way to put it than “stepped in for.” Hairston drilled his second kickoff out of the end zone, one of two touchbacks he recorded.
“(Hairston) gave us a real lift there and got the ball into the end zone a couple of times,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He provided us with the some nice hang time and distance.
On a night where the Tigers weren’t able to contain Austin in the passing game, they were successful in shutting down the speedy return man on special teams.
3) Sticking with special teams, how about Morris Claiborne?
Just when some fans began rumbling for Miles to try someone new on kickoff returns, Claiborne saved the day with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which helped put a halt to a run of 14 unanswered points that brought West Virginia within six points late in the third quarter.
“Claiborne scores on a kickoff return at a time when the momentum of the game was in question, and it extinguished any hope that the opponent had at victory,” Miles said. “That was the 15th special teams touchdown that we’ve had since 2005 and the second this year.”
Against the Mountaineers, LSU’s 1-2 punch combined for 174 yards and two touchdowns – both by Ford – on 34 carries.
“Our running backs are running hard, and Spencer Ware is proving a difficult man to tackle in the early going of games,” Miles said.
When it was time to grind out the win in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa kept the faith in his backs. Ware showed off a few impressive spin moves to keep runs alive, and he was the only LSU player to catch a pass in the final frame (he caught two passes for 17 yards). The third man, Alfred Blue, stepped in on the final drive and contributed 21 yards and a touchdown on just two carries.
5) Yes, LSU’s running backs were on point.
But for the first time this season we saw Studrawa set up the run with the pass, throwing on five of the offense’s first eight plays – which culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee to Rueben Randle.
Versatility is always good news on the grid iron, and on Saturday LSU showed that their offensive game plan wasn’t a one-trick pony.
“It’s something we are trying to do to change it up a little bit, throw it on first down and get some yards,” said quarterback Jarrett Lee. “It’s working for us, and we are going to keep doing what works.”
6) Lee’s job has been made easier by a veteran offensive line, which has only allowed three sacks in four games played.
One better, the group is having success while playing a bit of musical chairs.
An injury in the Mississippi State game sidelined starting left tackle Chris Faulk and sent Greg Shaw into action against West Virginia, but Faulk was later called upon when starter Alex Hurst went down on Saturday night. Starting left guard T-Bob Hebert also went down with an injury, which slid starting right guard Will Blackwell over to Hebert’s spot and in turn brought backup Josh Williford into the game to fill the void left by Blackwell.
“I don’t think we missed a beat,” said Blackwell. “Coach Stud has us ready to play any position, and on nights like that it pays off for us.”
7) After the offensive line was forced into a shuffle, the interior of the defensive line met the same fate.
Defensive tackles Josh Downs and Michael Brockers were both helped off with injuries, and while both later returned to action, defensive line coach Brick Haley first got a look at some of his younger talent.
Freshman Anthony Johnson stepped in for Downs and provided an equally impressive pass rush, penetrating the West Virginia line on a couple of occasions as he flashed signs of what is to come.
In his first significant action of the season, Ego Ferguson also made his mark, recording a pair of solo stops and breaking up a Geno Smith pass in the second quarter that helped force the Mountaineers to punt out of their own end zone.
8) Coaches love to circle the turnover battle and time of possession as must-wins for their team to have success.
Playing on the road in one of college football’s most hostile environments, both statistics become even more meaningful.
LSU didn’t turn the ball over once while West Virginia handed it over four times. The time of possession read 33:22 for LSU and 26:38 for WVU.
For the Tigers, that’s two checks in the positives column.
“Any time that you are plus four in the turnover margin, as were in that game, it gives you a chance of winning,” Miles said. “We had a short field most of the time.”
9) On the first drive of the third quarter, Randle dropped an open touchdown pass that would likely have put the game out of reach at 34-7.
Randle laughed it off. So did Lee.
Reason being: Whether it’s practice or Saturday nights, Randle – who Lee said is his go-to receiver – rarely ever drops the football, which makes this mental lapse a once-in-a-blue-moon moment.
“That’s one of the reasons I went over smiling to him, because we both knew that he never drops those balls,” Lee said. “He was smiling, too. He knew that he doesn’t drop those. The first touchdown he made was double-coverage where he had to pull it down, so he won’t miss those open passes very often.
“It’s just one of those things that happens. We are going to keep going back to him.”
10) Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu.
What more is there to say that the YouTube video that gave Mathieu the nickname didn’t touch on?
Simply put, Honey Badger just doesn’t care.
After a red-hot start to his sophomore campaign, Mathieu came up with two huge plays on Saturday night.
With LSU up 7-0 in the first quarter, Mathieu stripped Brad Starks and recovered the fumble – the second time this season that Mathieu has recorded a strip and recovered the fumble in the same play.
When LSU went up 20-7 in the second quarter, Mathieu struck again, this time baiting Geno Smith into an interception that Mathieu returned to the 1-yard line, setting up a touchdown pass from Lee to tight end Chase Clement.
“I knew he was going to try and get the ball to Tavon Austin, so it was about me getting up the field and getting my hands in the way,” Mathieu said.
Easier said than done, which is what has the national media raving about the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder that is wreaking havoc on the bayou.
Mathieu was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week award for his efforts. LSU’s Claiborne took home the award last week against Mississippi State.