Many burning questions abound as smothering LSU faces soaring WVU
LSU's elite defense will be tested Saturday by one of the nation's best-kept secrets
West Virginia will break out new wrinkles, but LSU is no stranger to trickeration
Prepare for a spike in couch fires if the Mountaineers fail to find offensive balance
Second-ranked LSU visits West Virginia on Saturday night, and all the ingredients are present for an epic confrontation, if not ... conflagration. While municipal employees in other townships across the republic spent Thursday picking up garbage and recycling, workers in Morgantown rounded up some 36 dumptruck loads of furniture and other combustible materials from the front yards and porches of rental properties near West Virginia University.
It was a pre-emptive strike designed to reduce the number of fires set by WVU students, an alarming number of whom have fallen into the habit of alleviating stress by dousing a ratty old sofa in Kingsford charcoal lighter fluid, then putting it to the torch. "If we win," a hopeful Fire Marshall Capt. Ken Tennant told the AP, "maybe we won't have as many fires."
LSU will be going up against a talented, dangerous opponent in a stadium filled with hostiles who have spent the day fortifying themselves with spirits and malt beverages. It will feel, in other words, like just another away game in the SEC.
The Tigers have already dominated a pair of ranked teams -- Oregon and Mississippi State -- on the road this September, which is why coach Les Miles didn't seem overly concerned by the prospect of venturing into Milan Puskar Stadium.
"The LSU personality will take hold wherever we play," Miles predicted. "There is a confidence and an enjoyment of a road venue that this team has now. I don't necessarily look at it as adversity, other than getting in late at night..."
The most dominant aspect of that personality is a marauding, smothering defense that stuffed Mississippi State ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage on 15 of their 34 rushing attempts in Week 3. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan chipped in with 3 ½ of those tackles for loss and was named the SEC's defensive lineman of the week. But the truth is, this defense is loaded all over the field.
It will be tested by one of the best-kept secrets in the country. Showing a surprising level of comfort with first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen's up-tempo, attack-down-the-field offense, quarterback Geno Smith has already thrown for 1,008 yards in three games -- fourth best in the country. And one gets the feeling the Mountaineers have been saving some surprises for their guests from the bayou.
Asked before the season if he'd put in a bunch of new wrinkles, Holgorsen was not exactly coy: "Oh, we have lots of them ... we have added a bunch of new stuff. There are tricks that you can't imagine."
Miles can imagine them, actually, because that's how he rolls. The man likes his trick plays. But if Jarrett Lee stays on his current trajectory, LSU may not need The Hat's trickeration. Lee is a fifth-year senior who has shown a knack, in his career, for backing up more talented but less disciplined quarterbacks who are subsequently suspended, thrusting him into the starting role. In 2008 it was Ryan Perilloux, whom Miles kicked off the team for "not meeting his obligation" as an LSU student-athlete. Lee started eight games as a redshirt freshman, winning four of them but throwing 16 interceptions, six of which were returned for touchdowns.
Lee once again got the call this season after Jordan Jefferson was arrested for his role in an August bar fight. Since an unsteady opening night against Oregon -- "I expected him to throw the football better; he's better than he showed today," Miles told me after the game -- the senior from west Texas has figured something out. He was much more polished and consistent in completing 21 of his 27 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs. He's managing games, getting the rock in the hands of his NFL-bound teammates. This week those ranks will include quicksilver wideout Russell Shepard, back from a three-game suspension for violating NCAA and school rules.
Meanwhile, there's movement in Jefferson's case, which was heard before a grand jury this week. Jefferson stands accused of felonious assault for allegedly kicking a man in the face while he lay on the ground. But tests for DNA on Jefferson's shoes are inconclusive, according to the Shreveport Times. If Jefferson is acquitted, Miles told reporters this week, he would be welcomed back with open arms.
If Jefferson is reinstated, how long will Miles wait before making him the starter? Improved though he may be, is Lee capable of quarterbacking these Tigers to an SEC championship? To a national title?
The best quarterback on the field on Saturday night will be wearing blue and gold. Will Holgorsen have enough creative calls to keep a sensational LSU defense off balance? How big a night does Smith need to get into the Heisman conversation? Can the Mountaineers find a ground attack? They're averaging an underwhelming 78 rushing yards per game; if they can't find some semblance of balance and end up spending the evening in third-and-long situations, things could get ugly, quickly.
Which could lead to a spike in couch-fires in Morgantown. Yes, the city carted away 36 trucks full of potential fuel, but was it enough?
So many burning questions.