POSTED: Saturday, September 24, 2011 - 3:38pm
UPDATED: Saturday, September 24, 2011 - 3:39pm
Morgantown, WV (LSU SPORTS PRESS OFFICE) — Something has to give on Saturday as two lengthy winning streaks will be on the line when second-ranked LSU takes on 16th-ranked West Virginia here at sold out Mountaineer Field.
LSU brings the nation's longest non-conference regular season winning streak into the contest at 35 straight, while West Virginia hasn't lost a non-conference home game since 2005, a span that covers 18 games.
Kickoff is set for 7:12 p.m. CT and the game will be televised nationally on ABC with Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews calling the action. The game will also be broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network with Jim Hawthorne, Doug Moreau and Gordy Rush on the call.
LSU, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and No. 3 in the USA Today Coaches poll, is 3-0 overall following last week's 19-6 win over No. 25 Mississippi State. West Virginia is also 3-0 overall as the Mountaineers beat Maryland, 36-31, last week.
This will be LSU's first trip to Morgantown and just the second overall meeting between the teams in football. Last year, LSU beat West Virginia, 20-14, in Tiger Stadium.
"We've had a good week of practice," head coach Les Miles said. "Playing last Thursday we were able to have a couple extra days of preparation. We were also able to get a couple guys back from injury so we are in good shape health wise going into Saturday."
Miles said the offensive tackle Chris Faulk and punter Brad Wing will both play against West Virginia. Faulk was injured on LSU's first offensive series last week against Mississippi State and missed the remainder of the game. Wing hasn't played since LSU's season-opening win over Oregon.
"It's good to get those two back," Miles said. "Greg Shaw did a great job stepping in for Chris last week against Mississippi State and D.J. (Howard) has filled in nicely for Brad. If anything, we were able to develop some additional depth over the past couple weeks at these two positions."
The Tigers are also set to get the services of wide receiver Russell Shepard on Saturday. Shepard missed the first three games of the season due to an NCAA issue. Shepard is expected to contribute on special teams and at wide receiver against the Mountaineers.
"We are excited to get Russell back in the lineup," Miles said. "He's a very dynamic playmaker who can do a variety of things on the field for us."
One matchup to watch on Saturday is that of the LSU defense against the West Virginia offense, in particular, quarterback Geno Smith. LSU hasn't allowed a touchdown in eight quarters and the Tigers are among the best in the nation rushing yards (47.7), total yards (207.7) and scoring (12.0).
A week ago, the Tigers had 16 tackles for losses and six sacks in holding Mississippi State to 52 rushing yards and 193 total yards.
This week, the Tigers will have to slow Smith, who is throwing for 336 yards per game as he's connected on 70 percent of his passes for 1,008 yards and seven touchdowns. The Mountaineers other top offensive weapon is multi-purpose wide out Tavon Austin, who averaging 208 all-purpose a game. Austin has caught 20 passes for 236 yards and one TD; he's returned six punts for 132 yards, including a 64-yard return; and he's returned nine kickoffs for 265 yards and one touchdown.
"West Virginia presents a very difficult challenge for us," Miles said. "They have an outstanding quarterback in Geno Smith and a dynamic game-changer in (Tavon) Austin. We are going to have to make some adjustments in how we approach them as compared to what we did against Oregon and Mississippi State."
When the Tigers have the ball, they will continue to rely on the running of sophomores Spencer Ware (226 yards, 3 TDs) and Michael Ford (218 yards, 4 TDs), while also counting on senior quarterback Jarrett Lee to manage the offense.
Lee is coming off his best game as a Tiger, completing 21-of-27 passes for 213 yards and one TD in the win over Mississippi State. Lee, who has thrown just one interception all year, has completed 68 percent of his passes for 444 yards and three scores in leading LSU to its 3-0 start.
Freshman Odell Beckham Jr. (15 rec., 111 yards) and junior Rueben Randle (12 rec., 229 yards, 2 TDs) have been the top targets for Lee.
"We want to continue to be balanced on offense," Miles said. "West Virginia has a very stingy defense with playmakers all over the field. I like the way we executed last week against Mississippi State and it's going to take similar effort against West Virginia for us to be successful."