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Sunday, September 26, 2010
LSU better than WVU, but how good?

By Brian Bennett

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU had just gotten the ball back with 2:55 to go, needing only a couple of first downs to wrap up its 20-14 victory over No. 22 West Virginia. As the offense took the field, boos cascaded all around Tiger Stadium.

That's because quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who had been lifted a series earlier to much of the crowd's great delight, had come back into the game. Never much loved anyway, Jefferson had increasingly become unpopular with each bounced incompletion or stuffed rollout run.

After the game, LSU coach Les Miles was incredulous that anyone would boo the home team.

"It's not conceivable to me," Miles said. "I promise you this: that guy goes to work, he goes to the coffee pot and complains about the coffee. And he didn't make the coffee."

Patrick Peterson
Patrick Peterson struck the Heisman pose after returning a punt 60 yards for a touchdown. He also blocked a field goal against West Virginia.
All Miles cares about is that his team is 4-0. But though the No. 15 Tigers did enough to beat what is probably the best team in the Big East, they look like they have far too many flaws to take down the better teams in the SEC.

If not for outstanding defensive and special teams play Saturday night and especially the continued heroics of Patrick Peterson, LSU would no longer be undefeated. The offense accounted for just one touchdown -- set up by a West Virginia fumble inside its own 10 -- and only 230 total yards.

"I'm actually kind of aggravated because we're a lot better than what we showed," said running back Stevan Ridley, who accounted for more than half his team's production with 116 rushing yards. "This team has so much potential, so much we haven't shown. It's bad when you have everything in the right places and just can't put it all together."

Erratic quarterback play remains a big reason why. Jefferson finished just 10-of-22 for 75 yards, marking the third straight game he's had fewer than 100 yards passing. He also threw two interceptions, though one hit receiver Terrence Toliver in the hands. After he underthrew two straight receivers in the fourth quarter, Miles brought backup Jarrett Lee in for a series so Jefferson could "clear his head."

"Our quarterback play has got to get better," Miles said. "It's just that simple."

LSU had more penalty yards (a whopping 120) than it did passing yards (80). How can the Tigers keep that up and expect to win big SEC games? Jefferson, maligned throughout his career, insisted he wasn't worried.

"We're 4-0 -- what am I going to be frustrated about?" Jefferson said. "Auburn and Alabama are Week 8 and Week 9. We'll just keep working."

In the meantime, the defense and special teams can carry this club pretty far, as West Virginia found out.

The Mountaineers came in averaging nearly 450 yards, with a balanced passing attack to go with their stellar run game. They were held to just 177 total yards, including 58 on the ground. After climbing to within 17-14 in the third quarter, West Virginia mustered just 31 yards in the fourth quarter as LSU continually pinned the offense deep with its punting game. Then the defense hurried quarterback Geno Smith and stuffed the gaps in the running game.

Peterson nearly beat West Virginia himself. He returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown and blocked a chip shot field goal in the first half. Tyler Bitancurt also missed a long field goal for the Mountaineers.

"That was a tough one to lose, and it is going to stick with me a long time," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said.

"I do not like missing two field goals. I do not like giving up a punt return. I do not like us not handling the pressure, and I do not like being able to capitalize and trading touchdowns for turnovers. That is not funny to me."

Despite the loss, West Virginia still looks like the best team in the Big East -- for whatever that's worth anymore in an almost comically underperforming league.

With Cincinnati, Rutgers and Pitt going down earlier, the league produced a clean 0-4 sweep in its major nonconference tests this week. The Big East stands at 1-10 against BCS conference opponents in 2010, with the Mountaineers' win over Maryland last week the one positive mark. West Virginia's loss ensures that no league teams will be ranked this week, and it may be a long time before a Big East team appears back in the Top 25.

You can also officially cross all Big East players off the Heisman Trophy list. Noel Devine, who was bothered by a bruised right toe, gained only 37 yards on 14 carries at LSU.

Meanwhile, Peterson stated his growing case in a not-so-subtle way. After returning the punt for his first Tiger Stadium touchdown, Peterson struck the Heisman pose in the end zone. That'll earn him some TV time, but it also earned him a 15-yard penalty and an earful from Miles.

"That's definitely my last pose," a sheepish Peterson said. "You won't see it again. Never. Unless I so happen to be in New York and win it. Then I might do it again."

Defensive players almost never win the Heisman. But if Peterson can power this team through the SEC while the offense barely contributes, he'll deserve every accolade that comes his way.