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No Chance? West Virgina Players Beg to Differ

September 22, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - The West Virginia Mountaineers know what they're up against Saturday night when the No. 2-ranked LSU Tigers make their first visit to Mountaineer Field.

''This is what college football is all about,'' defensive end Bruce Irvin said. ''This is a kid's dream right here. It's a big stage, and I'm going to have my guys ready to perform on Saturday night.

''Confidence is the biggest thing. If you go in thinking you can't play with them, more than likely, they're going to beat your butt. Everybody on this team, we're playing for each other. We don't care what the nation's saying or what anybody has to say, we're playing for the guys in this building and this state. That's all that matters to us.''

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There aren’t many around the country that believe West Virginia can hang with No. 2 LSU on Saturday night. Coach Dana Holgorsen has given the thumbs up to victory.

The Tigers, who have already beaten Oregon and Mississippi State, have the nation's sixth-ranked defense, yielding 207.6 yards per game, with only 47.8 of those coming on the ground per game, and they're third in the country in tackles for loss (10).

''They big and fast everywhere you look,'' receiver Stedman Bailey said.

Few are giving the Mountaineer smuch of a shot against this Southeastern Conference juggernaut, but that's not going to stop linebacker Najee Goode from putting things in perspective.

''It's not like we're playing against an NFL team,'' he said. ''We're playing against our peers. We'll hit them the same way we hit everybody else, and hopefully, we'll knock them out. We'll do the same thing that we did before.''

Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith agrees.

''They give scholarships like we do,'' he said. ''You have to have guys that are going to go out there and compete because that's what it's all about.''

With all of that, the West Virginia coaches have tried to downplay the LSU reputation and treat it as the next game on the schedule.

''It's every bit as big as the last game was,'' head coach Dana Holgorsen said, ''and it's every bit as big as the next game will be. That's what we tried to preach with our guys. It's more about us than who we play. It's more about us learning how to prepare to win a game and learning how to prepare to play a game, regardless of the outside opinion of what the magnitude is.''

Bailey, who has helped the WVU offense to an average of 42 points per game, and a pass offense average 356 yards per game, doesn't see anyone being able to completely clamp down the Mountaineers.

''These guys probably have one of the top defenses in the country, and that probably intimidates a lot of people,'' he said. ''But we know what we can do on our side of the ball; we have playmakers all over the field. We just have to go out there and play our game.''

Last season, in Baton Rouge, La., West Virginia yielded just one offensive touchdown in a 20-14 loss, the key play being a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by future first-round NFL Draft pick Patrick Peterson.

In theory, they should be able to draw confidence from that. The scheme they used that night is still in play.

But cornerback's coach David Lockwood disagrees.

''No,'' he said. ''It's a whole new year. It's a different team on both ends of the spectrum. They look more physical than they were a year ago. It's a whole different year - two different ballclubs. You're preaching what you preach from Day 1. We've got to stop the run. It's what we do. It's how we practice and get ready.''

Holgorsen has talked a lot about offensive tempo all season. He didn't really like much of what he saw against Marshall or Norfolk State. It was better, he said, against Maryland.

Then he explained what he meant.

''Have success,'' he said. ''You can't go out and get a three-and-out in 15 seconds or you'll destroy your team. We don't have a goal of snapping the ball a specific amount of times; it's about rhythm as much as anything. If you start having success, it's easier to get into a rhythm. It doesn't matter what offense you play. It doesn't matter what your tempo is. If you have success, it's easier to call plays.

''Watching (LSU) against Oregon, nobody goes faster than Oregon. We don't go faster than Oregon. Oregon goes faster than anyone in the country. (LSU) handled their tempo just fine. One thing that is concerning watching their defense is that they don't play just 11 people - they have tremendous depth on both sides of the ball. They can put their twos in there, and it looks just as good as their ones.''