WVU will have hands full with LSU
Published: Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 23:06
When LSU travels to Milan Puskar Stadium on Sept. 24, it will mark only the second time in history the two teams have met.
With conference and national title aspirations on the line, this game will serve as an ideal sequel to last year's 20-14 LSU victory in Baton Rouge.
Led by Les Miles and his notorious hat, the Tigers finished 2010 ranked No. 8 in the country after their defeat of Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
The Sporting News placed LSU No. 1 in its annual preseason magazine, and they are a lock to be a consensus top five selection.
If they can survive their season opener against Oregon, the Tigers will be the highest ranked, non-conference opponent to come to Morgantown since No. 1 Ohio State did so back in 1998.
If both teams are undefeated, the magnitude of the game could draw ESPN's College GameDay to town. With new offensive coordinators on both sides, there is sure to be more firepower in play as opposed to last year's defensively dominated game.
LSU's biggest loss could come in the secondary, where they lost cornerback Patrick Peterson to the NFL draft.
With a punt return touchdown and a field goal block, Peterson almost single-handedly beat the Mountaineers last season.
Now, the LSU defense is looking to reload with the plethora of talent that surrounds their program.
The Tigers will field what may be the most athletic defense in the country, building off the immense success they found last year.
Seven starters will return from that squad, including cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu, a junior, was the team's fourth leading tackler last year despite starting in only one game. Claiborne could be one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC and is looking to improve on his stellar sophomore campaign when he finished with a team-leading five interceptions and all-SEC honors.
Despite the depth in their secondary, the LSU defense does have a glaring hole in its most important section – the middle.
Replacing middle lineback Kelvin Sheppard could be as daunting a task for the Tigers as it is to replace Peterson.
Sophomore Kevin Minter has shown some promise this spring and figures to be the front-runner to replace Sheppard, but questions will surround the position until somebody locks it down.
The Mountaineer offensive line will have its hands full in the trenches, as LSU sports one of the biggest, most formidable defensive fronts in the country.
Defensive end Sam Montgomery, a freshman all-SEC selection a year ago, is hoping to play a full season this year after falling victim to a knee injury after five games last year.
Alongside him will be 6-foot-6, 300-pound sophomore Michael Brockers, who played all 13 games a year ago. Additionally, true freshman Anthony Johnson, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound blue-chip recruit, who enrolled in school early and will contribute immediately.
Suffice to say, the stingy LSU defense has the talent and experience to slow the high-powered Mountaineer offense.
The Tigers have a lot of question marks on offense, however, beginning with quarterback.
Embattled quarterback Jordan Jefferson struggled against the Mountaineers last season in a lackluster performance that showcased just how heavily the Tigers relied on their defense.
To improve the offense, the Tigers brought in former Louisville and Tulsa head coach Steve Kragthorpe to serve as offensive coordinator. His offensive scheme will aim to improve a passing game that finished 107th in the country last season.
Jefferson will be the most athletic quarterback the Mountaineer defense will see all year. He tossed for 1,411 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and also ran for 450 yards and seven touchdowns.
He has performed well under Kragthorpe's new scheme in the spring, but waiting behind him are two able quarterbacks that are perfectly viable options.
If things turn sour early on for the Tigers, don't be surprised to see Jefferson watching from the sidelines.
Kragthorpe can look to senior Jarrett Lee, who played sparingly last season in relief of the inconsistent Jefferson, as well as junior college transfer and former Georgia recruit Zach Mettenberger, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who tossed 32 touchdowns against four interceptions last year for Butler (Kan.) Community College.
Catching the bulk of the passes for the LSU offense will be Russell Shepard, who finished last season second on the team in receptions, but only scored two touchdowns. The Tigers will miss 1,000-yard rusher Stevan Ridley, but are confident that a stronger Mike Ford is ready to take the role of lead back.
LSU also lost its most important special teams players. Punter Derek Helton, kicker Josh Jasper and Peterson are gone, leaving glaring holes that won't be so easy to fill, especially in the kicking game.