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Loss to LSU should be wakeup call for WVU

MORGANTOWN -- The script was similar for West Virginia football and the expectations are no different now than they were a year ago.

The Mountaineers must hope it's the ultimate outcome that changes.

A year ago, WVU fell behind LSU 17-0, but had the ball at the Tigers 30-yard line in the fourth quarter down 20-14 and with a chance to take the lead and, maybe, win the game.

Never happened.

Neither team scored and LSU won, but the Mountaineers walked away knowing they hung around longer than they deserved to with the many mistakes they made. If those errors hadn't occurred, they said they might have won. If those errors wouldn't occur the rest of the way, they said they couldn't be beaten.

That WVU team was 3-1, but sure looked like it could win the Big East based on the way it coped with itself, the opponent and the environment that one night on the bayou.

Skip ahead a year. The Tigers led 13-0, 20-7 and then 27-7 Saturday, but the Mountaineers rallied again and made it 27-21 late in the third quarter. They were about to kickoff and, if they could get a stop, who knows, maybe they win the game.

Then came the decisive 99-yard kickoff return touchdown by LSU, just one item on the list of errors the Mountaineers made and again felt contributed to the 47-21 defeat. On cue, here comes the notion WVU is good enough to beat anyone in the Big East after the way it battled itself and the Tigers and still had a chance.

The 2010 Mountaineers finished the regular season 9-3 and lost to teams that, had you asked anyone that September, they had no business losing to.

Where will these Mountaineers go?

"Time will tell on that," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We were a disappointed football team (Saturday) night and (Sunday)."

It's not often a team, to say nothing of WVU, rings up 533 yards of offense against an opponent that would one day later become the top team in the nation. It's not often that productivity is a footnote because so many other things went wrong.

Understand LSU had a whole lot to do with those things, be it the four turnovers, the 10 penalties, the bad kickoff return coverage or the indecision on punt returns. The Tigers made a lot of stuff happen and you're not going to see a better player make better plays then Tyrann Mathieu did on his forced and recovered fumble and then his interception.

That is, undoubtedly, a very good, very talented football team, one that is going to beat teams as good and better than the Mountaineers the rest of the way, a team that might not get a battle quite as fierce as the one the Mountaineers provided for parts of their game.

Yet understand that was a game that got away from WVU, too. It was in doubt just twice, first when it was 0-0 and then when the LSU found itself ahead just 27-21. The Tigers controlled the time immediately after both.

LSU should be praised for its play in both instances and for how the Tigers first did it with plays on defense and then with plays on special teams and offense. Makes you forget the Tigers dropped a touchdown pass in the third quarter and then missed a field goal.

The Mountaineers could be praised for their comeback, but should be concerned. They couldn't match the amount of plays LSU made. They didn't force a turnover for the third time in four games. They didn't do nearly enough on special teams, and that includes two whiffs on Morris Claiborne's killer kickoff return.  

"We had way too many negative plays," quarterback Geno Smith said. "I feel like if we had done a little better, we would have been in a better position to win that game."

In two games against the Tigers, who have had deep and fast and solid teams both times, WVU has committed six turnovers for 27 points and allowed two special teams touchdowns. But even in those defeats the Mountaineers have looked worthy coming out. The justifications are different, though.

A year ago, WVU had a defense to be trusted and a running game that featured Noel Devine. This year there is a hint of a running game, but a prolific passing game and Smith as part of an offense that is ridiculously more qualified to compete.

This defense didn't play as badly as the LSU score suggests and was routinely put in tough spots, but has still allowed 10 touchdowns in the past two games. It isn't pressuring the passer and isn't creating turnovers. LSU's isn't an explosive offense. Maryland's scored 31 against the Mountaineers and then got shellacked by Temple, 38-7.

Yet none of that means anything. WVU is clearly better offensively than anyone else in the Big East except South Florida, which has looked no less competent averaging more than 520 yards and 45 points per game - including a win against Notre Dame's defense.

Jeff Casteel always shapes and improves his defense and the work already may have started with Josh Francis starting in place of Casey Vance on Saturday at the weakside linebacker.

The Mountaineers weathered miserable special teams the past three seasons.

The stories may be similar, but the seasons are unique and outcomes should never be presumed. The recovery started in the film room with a sharp review of what went right and wrong against the Tigers.

Strengths and weaknesses will be the focus of practice today, Wednesday and Thursday. Frustrations will be expressed and growth will be displayed Saturday against a feisty Bowling Green team that is nevertheless between LSU and the Oct. 8 Big East opener against Connecticut for a reason.

"You hope you can keep things positive," Holgorsen said. "If we continue to move in that direction, then we have a chance."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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