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WVU-LSU: It's Hard Not to Think About What Might Have Been

September 23, 2010
By JIM ELLIOTT

MORGANTOWN - LSU vs. West Virginia. Baton Rouge vs. Morgantown - the place the 2007 National Championship trophy is, vs. where it could have been.

Remember the circumstances?

The top-ranked Tigers were beaten by Arkansas in an epic three-overtime battle by a 50-48 score in late November that fall. The next day, No. 3 West Virginia blew away 20th-ranked Connecticut, 66-21, and moved up to No. 2 in the AP poll and No. 1 in the Coaches poll. All the Mountaineers had to do was beat 28-point underdog Pitt at home a week later and they were a lock to play in the national championship game.

Of course, that didn't happen. LSU went on to play - and beat - Ohio State to win its second title since the BCS format began.

Linebacker J.T. Thomas was a redshirt freshman for the Mountaineers who saw action in 10 games that season.

''Now I don't like to speak on the past, but you mean to tell me that if we were in that national championship game against Ohio State that we wouldn't have given them a run for their money?'' Thomas asked.

It was an answer to a question about SEC speed, major buzzwords in Morgantown this week, as the Mountaineers pay a visit to LSU at 9 Saturday night.

You can't help but think about what might have been. What will Thomas think if he were to walk past a trophy case Saturday and see that thing glistening?

''It'll just be something else to put in the back of my mind to drive us even harder,'' he said. ''You want to use as much motivation as possible.''

Defensive lineman Chris Neild, also a redshirt freshman that season with the Mountaineers, started two games and played in 11 as the primary backup to Keilen Dykes.

He remembers watching the LSU-Arkansas game and the euphoria that followed. He remembers playing the Pitt game - and the black cloud that followed.

''I try not to think about it that much,'' Neild said. ''I don't like thinking about that year. That was in the past. We try not to think about what's going on then, we just have to focus on what's going on now.''

Now, it's a chance for the Mountaineers (3-0) to gain some national notoriety by standing up to a power school from the top conference in college football on the road.

''The SEC, they think they're the big boys, and they look down on little people like the Big East,'' said WVU defensive end Bruce Irvin, the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Week.

''They got a lot of speed, but I think we've got a lot of speed, too. We can run with these boys. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like us. They're no different. They're just in the SEC and we're in the Big East. We can play with them. Simple as that.''

Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith, the reigning Big East Offensive Player of the Week, feels the same way about these supposed scary Tigers, having played against a few of them, including stud cornerback Patrick Peterson, in high school.

''I think out of all the teams in the Big East, I think we're one of the premier teams when it comes to speed,'' Smith said. ''I think we can go down there and run with those guys being that we recruit so well out of Florida. Coming out of Florida, speed is something I've seen pretty much my entire life.''

LSU (3-0, 2-0) has shown plenty of running ability thus far, averaging 203 yards per game on the ground with running back Stevan Ridley averaging 106 yards per weekend. The defense, meanwhile, barely allows 80 rushing yards per outing. The passing game hasn't yet clicked, as quarterback Jordan Jefferson has thrown for 344 yards and two touchdowns, not even 115 yards per game. On special teams, kicker Josh Jasper has made seven consecutive field goals.

West Virginia leads the Big East in passing offense (266.7 yards per game), pass efficiency (149.8), punt return average (15.8 ypr) total defense (255.7 ypg), rushing defense (62.7 ypg) first downs (23.3 per game), third-down conversions (52.8 percent) and time of possession (34:18).

More than 90,000 fans will be on hand to see what all of those numbers mean.

''It's not like playing Coastal Carolina at noon,'' Thomas said. ''It's LSU at night. All the eyes are on us. People who don't get to see their family much, their family will get to see them play on TV. Guys will be amped up for the game.

''That's why you come to West Virginia. To play in games like these."

Why wouldn't you want to be playing at LSU on Saturday night?''

 
 

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