Saturday was a spectacle on the campus of West Virginia University. ESPN’s College GameDay was in town to broadcast their pre game show. Second ranked LSU was in Morgantown to take on the 16th ranked Mountaineers in an ABC night game. WVU fans did not disappoint. Even though the GameDay broadcast isn’t until Saturday morning, ESPN routinely went live to the set during various Sportscenter broadcast during the latter part of last week. Every time they did there were plenty of WVU students on hand to make some noise when the camera lights came on.
By the time the real show began on Saturday morning the frenzied crowd had grown to an estimated 10,000 or so. By all accounts, ESPN was pleased with the turnout and enthusiasm displayed. According to a few of the talking heads the WVU reception was one of the best ever.
That was all well and good and the enthusiasm continued through the afternoon and into the evening for the game. The new Mantrip, where the players and coaches walk through the fans in the parking lot and into the stadium, was a rousing time.
There was also the backdrop, depending on whom you talk to, that the game could be an audition for WVU to gain an invitation into the Southeastern Conference. While that is pure speculation at this point, WVU fans pulled out all the stops and filled the stadium wearing gold, waved gold towels and vocally supported the Mountaineers.
It was an impressive sight inside the stadium and, by most accounts, was impressive on TV as well. Whether or not the outpouring of emotion from the WVU fans impressed those in the SEC who make the decisions regarding expansion is the $30 million question. The game, obviously, did not go as well as WVU would have liked. The final score of 47-21 was not a pleasing outcome. The Mountaineers stumbled to a 27-7 halftime deficit. That included a late interception of a Geno Smith screen pass that set LSU up at the one-yard line.
In spite of that, the Mountaineers came out in the third quarter and got hot. Dustin Garrison scored on a one-yard plunge with 1:16 left in the quarter to cut the LSU lead to 27-21. At that point the crowd believed the momentum had shifted, and there was no reason to think it hadn’t, Smith and the offense had found some rhythm.
That momentum shift lasted 16 seconds, or until Mo Claiborne crossed the goal line to complete a 99 yard kick return. While a 34-21 deficit is not insurmountable, against the talented LSU defense it was more than mistake prone WVU could manage.
Smith had a remarkable evening completing 38 of 65 passes for 463 yards. Much of Monday talk radio was discussing the passing totals Smith achieved against an LSU secondary that could have as many as four future NFL players. For most, the bottom line is scoreboard, which is undeniable. Some pointed out those high yardage totals are a product of throwing so many passes. One genius even tried to diminish the accomplishment saying that many of the passing yards came after the catch, something that has been going on since the advent of the forward pass.
Yes, Smith was helped by circumstance, and his two interceptions were costly. One circumstance that helped the talented junior was the poor field position LSU kept the WVU offense in. WVU’s average point of possession was their own 11 yard line due to some impressive punting by LSU. Smith continually having such a long field was a factor in his totals. Still, that does not diminish the performance, but it should instill fear in future opponents. WVU was outmatched a bit on Saturday and gave up a couple cheap touchdowns that made the score more lopsided than it probably should have been.
Back to realignment. Texas A&M was officially admitted to the SEC on Monday. Despite being ignored by the national media as being a candidate as the 14th member of the SEC, a few with ears close to the WVU scene are still hopeful, but not especially optimistic. Keep an eye on this, a future in the Big East as a football team is tenuous, particularly if the automatic BCS bid is removed at some point.