HOT SEAT? RIDICULOUS
Let's get this out of the way up front. The idea that either WVU head coach Bill Stewart or LSU boss Les Miles is in jeopardy of losing his job is ludicrous. Or at least, it should be.
Stewart is 22-8 in his Mountaineer tenure, a winning percentage of .733. Only Clarence Spears had a better record after his first 30 games. Miles, who won a national championship with the Tigers, is 54-15 in his sixth year at the school.
Much of the dissatisfaction with both coaches comes from the fact that their records over the previous couple of seasons haven't reached the heights of achievement the schools enjoyed in piling up double-digit win totals from 2005-2007. During that three-year span, WVU was 33-5, while the Tigers were 34-6. In the two-plus succeeding seasons, LSU has won "only 20 games, while the Mountaineers have come out on top "just" 21 times. That's cause for complaining for a segment of the fan bases of both schools, who think that once the ten-win mark is achieved, it should be repeated every year.
Well, I'm here to tell you that's just not realistic. Every school goes through ups and downs, and there are only a handful that are going to reach that win total in any given year. And no, that doesn't mean that I'm "settling for mediocrity" or "defending the coaches" or any of the other equally off-base charges that are often leveled by the shouters. Certainly, Stewart and Miles, along with every other coach in the country, wants to win every game and go to BCS bowls and win 11 or 12 games every year. But guess what? No one does that. As a result, the "hot seats", that are manufactured by over-hyped media outlets and the percentage of fans that follow their every word with breathless adoration, couldn't be more wrongly applied.
WVU has run 76 more plays than its opponents. It has kept the ball, on average, 8:40 per game longer than its foes. That hasn't totally translated to the scoreboard, however, where the Mountaineers are mid-pack in the NCAA national scoring listings.
The biggest reason for that is WVU's lack of touchdown conversions, especially in the red zone. While the Mountaineers are 15-18 in scoring chances in close (and that's just an average conversion rate, placing them 58th in the country), only ten of those 15 scores are touchdowns. While the NCAA doesn't sort its red zone stats by touchdown scores, a quick look down the red zone scoring list shows WVU would be pretty far down any ranking of touchdown conversions.
The coaching staff is well aware of this, of course, and it's been a point of emphasis all year, with Bill Stewart's "touchdowns, not field goals" mantra at the forefront. However, to carry that out, WVU has to run the ball better from in close, where it has been stuffed on a few occasions, and also protect it more effectively.
IMPRESSIVE OR NOT?
LSU goes into the West Virginia game riding the nation's longest regular-season non-conference winning streak at 30 straight. LSU hasn't lost a non-conference regular season game since a 26-8 setback to Virginia Tech to open the 2002 season. In addition, LSU has won 28 straight non-conference games in Tiger Stadium, a stretch that goes back to the 2002 season when the Tigers dropped a 13-10 decision to UAB.
Those numbers aren't to be sneezed at, but they also might be more reflective of the caliber of out-of-conference competition LSU has played over that stretch. While there have been some decent "name" schools on the Tigers' schedule during the winning skein, only Virginia Tech in 2007 managed to finish with an eye-catching record (11-3). Furthermore, only seven of those wins have come over BCS conference schools.
There's no doubt LSU is proud of this mark, however, as it exists in no fewer than four places in the Tigers' media notes for the game.
West Virginia is currently riding a 15-game non-conference home winning streak – a mark that is not in jeopardy this week.
SCORING DEAD HEAT
The Tigers and Mountaineers come into the game averaging an identical 28.7 points per game. That figure puts them in a tie for 61st in NCAA scoring rankings. Only Temple (78th with 24.7 ppg) is lower on that list while still sporting a 3-0 record. The highest-scoring team without a win to date is North Carolina, which has 48 points but no wins so far in 2010. UNC faced LSU in the opener and battles Rutgers on Saturday.
OUT OF THE BLOCKS
Getting off to a good start is important for WVU, but LSU won't make it easy. The Tigers haven't allowed a first quarter score this year, and haven't given up a touchdown in the first quarter of a regular season game since Mississippi State turned the trick in Sept. 2009. West Virginia doesn't necessarily have to put up a TD in the first 15 minutes in order to win, but it certainly would help the Mountaineers' cause if they could move the ball and get some first downs early on.
LSU's excellent defensive play has carried over to halftime, as the Tigers have yielded just ten second quarter points in three games this season.
LSU has two great names that popped out while we perused material for this site. The Tigers' defensive line coach is named Brick Haley – could that be any more appropriate? LSU also features a backup at offensive guard named T-Bob Hebert. He's the son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert, and goes by the nickname given to him by his grandmother. His really name is Bobby Joseph Herbert, and there's no doubt that T-Bob is much more distinctive that the "Bobby Joe" that he could have been tagged with.