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Elliott: Smith Shines Under Center in Defeat

September 25, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT - Staff Writer (elliott@theintelligencer.net) , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN The numbers Geno Smith put up Saturday night were legendary. He broke school records that stood more than half a century.

And he will never care about any of them because his team lost.

Smith completed 38 of 65 passes for 463 yards, including 217 in the third quarter alone, but the Mountaineers had four turnovers and didn't force a single one in a 47-21 loss to No. 2 LSU.

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Still, there's no shame in cutting up what was supposed to be one of the nation's top defenses for more than a quarter-mile. And, frankly, it's tough to win a game when your team start drives inside its own 5 - and the opposition does, too.

"If I would have scripted it," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said, "I probably wouldn't have scripted it this way."

There are a lot of places you could look to find out just what went wrong for the Mountaineers. Inside their own 5-yard line is as good as any.

That's where, in the first half alone, the Mountaineers began three possessions after Tigers punter Brad Wing continually landed his kicks on the goal line's beard. And, worse, it's where LSU began one of its first-half drives after Tyrann Mathieu intercepted a Smith pass at the 17 and raced 16 yards to the 1 before being pulled down by Tavon Austin.

"I felt like he was the best player on the field during the first three games they played," Holgorsen said, "and I thought he was the best player on the field (Saturday night)."

Still, it takes more than just well-placed punts to get beaten as badly as West Virginia did - spirited third-quarter rally notwithstanding. There were two lost fumbles, a pair of interceptions, a slew of penalties (10), turnstile tackling attempts, a crippling inability to get off the field on third down early in the game, and a special teams edge that was so great for the Tigers, it bordered on the illegal.

"Special teams was completely one-sided," Holgorsen said. "We had a hard time flipping the field. (Four) turnovers and them just being a lot better than us on special teams. If you factor those two things, field position is going to be a struggle."

In the first quarter alone, the Mountaineers turned the ball over twice, once on a fumble and once on a interception, had a punt travel just 14 yards soon after a back-breaking 15-yard, unsportsmanlike penalty on third down, and had no luck moving the ball on the ground. They had 12 yards on seven carries and Smith had just 66 passing yards at that point.

In the game's last 17 minutes, they gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown - the second time that's happened through four games - and lost yet another fumble. LSU wound up scoring 20 points after the Mountaineers got within six late in the third quarter.

Given this gaggle of errors, there's little wonder West Virginia didn't lose by more than 26.

"When you have 10 penalties to their five and four turnovers to their zero, that pretty much says that they're a smarter football team than we are," Holgorsen said. "They just outplayed us and outcoached us."

NOTE

Landau Murphy Jr., winner of NBC's 2011 "America's Got Talent" show, sang the national anthem and was rewarded with a huge ovation by Mountaineers fans.