Test awaits Mountaineer wide receivers
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia will play Saturday night against the fastest defense it has seen since the last time it shared the field with LSU. The Mountaineers admit they don't have the fastest offense the Tigers have seen this season.
"Nobody goes faster than Oregon," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We don't go faster than Oregon. Oregon goes faster than anyone in the country. LSU handled their tempo just fine."
No. 16 WVU (3-0) has plenty of quick players to oppose the linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties who star for No. 2 LSU (3-0), but the speed that matters is the speed between the ending of one play and the start of the next.
In their season-opening 40-27 win against Oregon, the Tigers were rarely caught reeling against the pace the Ducks like to use against their opponents.
"We started at the beginning of the year with what we called the tempo drill," LSU Coach Les Miles said. "We ran two offenses at the defense in rapid fire to get them used to a fast pace. We continued right through two-a-days and virtually every day. We challenged them to be ready and ready is a big deal when you line up against a team that will fast-pace you and try to get your helmet turned and run a play."
The Mountaineers must do one thing if they seek that tempo in the 8:12 p.m. game at Mountaineer Field to entertain an ABC telecast audience and exasperate the Tigers.
"Have success," Holgorsen 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."
WVU is at its best when it's on a roll. The offense has 13 touchdown drives this season. Nine have lasted 10 or more plays.
LSU forced Oregon into 19 third downs and didn't allow a pass play to cover more than 18 yards or a run to cover more than 13 yards. The Tigers were conditioned to transition from one play to the next, but the Mountaineers saw another explanation.
"The underlying thing I've seen from watching film is if you can't throw the football you're going to have problems with LSU," West Virginia inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson said. "Oregon tried, but their quarterback wasn't very accurate and obviously they got a lot of pressure on him.
"Oregon is going to beat you with their running game. They're going to spread you out and their quarterback is fast and their running backs are fast, but once that part of the game it taken away, that's when I think they struggled."
The Mountaineers are a passing team, with 124 attempts to 90 runs in three games and 1,038 yards passing and 236 yards rushing. WVU has 72 first downs this season. Forty-three have come by the pass while 15 have come by the run - or just one more than by penalty.
Oregon had to go away from the run more than it wanted when it fell behind 23-13 and then 30-13 in the third quarter. Oregon's Darron Thomas was 31-for-54 for 240 yards and a touchdown.
"LSU did handle Oregon's tempo pretty well, but the one thing I did notice was I don't feel like Oregon has the talent like we do at receiver," said receiver Ivan McCartney.
McCartney is one of four WVU receivers with 10 receptions, a touchdown and a 100-yard receiving game. McCartney, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey all had 100-yard games last week, something WVU believes had never happened before at the school.
Nothing stalls tempo like an incomplete pass, but the Mountaineers are completing more than 70 percent of their attempts for 12.6 yards per completion. LSU's pass defense is allowing opponents to complete 58 percent of their passes for 5 fewer yards per catch than what the Mountaineers average.
"You've got to take advantage of the little space that you have," Holgorsen said. "They're good, talented and rarely out of position. We're going to have to throw to receivers that are covered and run into people that are filling gaps. We're going to have to sustain blocks for a little bit longer.
"If they're playing zone and we've got a guy open, then that hole is going to close relatively quick. The speed of the game is going to have to increase a bit more than it did last week. The tight space that we'll have offensively, we'll have to take advantage of it."
The Mountaineers can create space, but can only force that change if they use their speed to match LSU's.
"The biggest thing that loosens people up is just getting lined up fast," Dawson said. "If you get lined up fast, they have to get the defensive calls fast and you have to get everyone lined up fast.
"That can be hard and typically that's going to loosen them up for some of the things you want to do."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.