LSU defense presents a test for West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen reluctantly watched last Thursday as LSU handled Mississippi State on the road.
Though he watched as a spectator rather than as a coach, it was clear that LSU's defense is as good this season as it is almost every year.
"It doesn't matter how many seniors they had last year, especially defensively, they'll just replace them with guys who are every bit as good," Holgorsen said.
When LSU comes Saturday to Morgantown, West Virginia's offense will go toe-to-toe with one of the best defenses in the country.
"They're good, talented and rarely out of position," Holgorsen said. "We're going to have to throw to receivers that are covered and run into people that are filling gaps."
The Tigers' defense has been dominant through the first three weeks. LSU is allowing just 12 points and 207.7 yards per game, which ranks No. 15 and sixth, respectively, in the nation.
On 36 possessions this season, the Tigers' defense has forced either a three-and-out or a turnover 19 times. It also hasn't allowed a touchdown in eight consecutive quarters.
West Virginia's offense has relied on big plays to score this year, but LSU hasn't yielded many. Only two plays have gone for more than 20 yards against its defense this season, and both came late against Mississippi State.
"They are wherever the ball is," Holgorsen said. "They get there really fast, and they're pretty impressive once they get there. You can study their personnel all you want to, but they're all capable of making plays."
WVU center Joe Madsen added: "You watch the film, and there's at least eight guys going to the ball every time."
Holgorsen's offense relies on tempo to be effective, but LSU already has proven it can handle that type of attack. The Tigers held Oregon's offense in check through the game's first three quarters.
"We don't go faster than Oregon," Holgorsen said. "Oregon goes faster than anyone in the country. They handled their tempo just fine."
The strength of the defense is on the line. The starters up front have accounted for 11 1⁄2 tackles for loss and three sacks this season and have allowed just 47.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the country.
It's another strong start for a traditionally deep, talented unit. Since 2003, six LSU defensive linemen have been named as first-team All-Americans, and 12 have been NFL draft picks.
Still, West Virginia's offensive line is experienced and improving. Three of the five starters played in last year's game, when LSU didn't register a sack against the Mountaineers.
The WVU line knows what to expect Saturday night.
"The whole defense plays hard," left guard Jeff Braun said. "They have a swagger about them that you can see on film. We just have to match that intensity."