LSU holds off WVU, 20-14
BATON ROUGE, La. -- West Virginia gave itself chances Saturday night in Death Valley. It just gave LSU too many.
The 22nd-ranked Mountaineers committed two turnovers that preceded 10 points for the Tigers and allowed a punt return touchdown for the first time in four years to contribute to an ultimately insurmountable deficit. The 15th-ranked Tigers followed a punt return touchdown from Patrick Peterson and an opportune offense to a 20-14 victory before 92,575 at Tiger Stadium.
The Mountaineers have only played before a larger crowd once. They lost at Penn State, 51-6, with 96,445 witnesses in 1991.
"I do not like missing two field goals. I do not like giving up a punt return. I do not like us not handling some pressure and I do not like not being able to capitalize and giving them turnovers for touchdowns," said Bill Stewart, who fell to 7-8 in road games in two-plus years as head coach."
WVU sunk the Big East to 1-10 against teams from BCS conferences -- and 0-4 this week. A 22-year streak without a win against a ranked team on the road in non-conference play continued. WVU last pulled that off against Pitt in 1988.
The Tigers, meanwhile, extended their non-conference regular-season winning streak to 31 games, the best in the nation. LSU has also won 29 straight regular-season non-conference home games and is 26-1 in Saturday night home games in the five-plus years with Coach Les Miles.
WVU quarterback Geno Smith entered the game completing 70.3-percent of his passes, the 10th-best mark in the country, but was 14-for-29 for 119 yards. He threw two touchdowns and an interception. Noel Devine carried 14 times for 39 yards and was slowed early by a bruised toe after he was tackled out of bounds on the second series. The offense managed 178 total yards -the worst output since 2003 -- and was 2-for-13 on third down.
"I felt pretty confident with our defense on the field," Miles said. "I felt like the game was really in control."
LSU won despite two turnovers and 11 penalties for 105 yards. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson was jeered on some occasions and cheered for throwing a ball out of bounds before being replaced for a series late in the game. The Tigers were 3-for-13 on third down.
"It sucks to have that feeling you were the better team and you couldn't come away with the 'W,'" said WVU linebacker J.T. Thomas.
LSU's Stevan Ridley carried 20 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. He ran seven times for 42 yards and three first downs in the fourth quarter.
"Great player," said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "Strong kid, great player. My hat's off to him. I don't know it was so much our kids as it was playing a great player."
The Mountaineers (3-1) allowed 17 points in 5:48 that spanned the opening two quarters, but actually outgained LSU (4-0) 119-80 in the first half and had a 35-21 edge in plays.
A 5-yard touchdown pass from Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey with 48 seconds remaining in the first half made it 17-7. An interception by Eain Smith on LSU's first drive of the second half preceded a touchdown pass from Smith to Jock Sanders.
A lot of the damage was already done.
With Devine out of the game, WVU threw on first and second down from its own 12-yard line and then fullback Ryan Clarke lost a fumble when he carried on third down.
"Did you see him get hit out of bounds?" Stewart said. "That's what was wrong. He got hit out of bounds. He got his foot hurt. That's what was wrong."
The Tigers scored on a 1-yard run by Ridley on fourth down.
The Mountaineers picked up nine yards on a first-down pass, but Clarke was held to no gain on second down. Devine returned on third down, but Smith rolled right after a play-action fake and a throw behind his receiver was intercepted at the WVU 41.
LSU took a 10-0 lead, despite third-and-15 at the 46. Ridley gained 14 yards on an inside run and Josh Jasper, who kicked five field goals last week, was good from 49 yards out.
WVU went three-and-out and a penalty for an illegal block backed the offense up to its 10-yard line. Peterson returned the punt 60 yards for a score with 9:39 to go in the half and punctuated the play with a Heisman Trophy pose.
Pitt's Darrelle Revis last returned a punt for a touchdown against the Mountaineers at Heinz Field in 2006.
It was the Mountaineers who forced the game's first turnover, but they could do nothing with it.
Keith Tandy's interception gave WVU possession at the WVU 22 and the offense moved to LSU's 11, thanks in large part to 15-yard personal foul penalties against the Tigers on consecutive downs. The drive stalled and Tyler Bitancurt attempted a 28-yard field goal that was blocked by defensive lineman Pep Levingston.
WVU had four possessions after Sanders' touchdown with 12:29 to go in the third quarter. A punt came in front of a field goal by the Tigers after a drive that took 7:07 off the clock. Bitancurt then missed from 48 yards before LSU drove a little and punted to pin WVU at its 7 with 8:49 to go.
The Mountaineers went three-and-out and failed on a third-and-2 after Smith first lined up behind the right guard and then ran an option left for no gain. Smith had a final chance to repeat his heroics in Huntington two weeks ago when the offense took over with 3:57 to go at its 9, but the offense went three-and-out again.
"That was a tough one to lose," Stewart said, "and it's going to stick with me for a long time."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.