LSU goes mountain climbing in Morgantown

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2005

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –When LSU plays its first-ever game at West Virginia tonight, the Tigers will be returning to the scene of one of their greatest football moments.

LSU had but little to do with it.

But the Tigers sure benefited from it.

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The LSU team was in the air, en route home from Atlanta after winning the 2007 Southeastern Conference championship game, when a four-touchdown underdog Pitt team upset then-No.2-ranked, home-standing West Virginia.

In West Virginia lore, the game is known today simply by its final score — 13-9 — and is still a sore subject in the hills and hollers of a football-mad state.

The LSU team, which left Atlanta late that afternoon expecting merely to have earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl, landed in Baton Rouge to learn the door had been opened for the Tigers to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game against Ohio State.

LSU went on to beat the Buckeyes for its second BCS title in five years.

It would have been West Virginia in the big game if not for one of college football’s most startling upsets.

And the Tigers didn’t even send West Virginia a thank you note.

But the No. 16 Mountaineers, 3-0 like No. 2 LSU, could turn the tables tonight, head to head, in what is being touted as the biggest college football weekend ever at a school that fancies itself SEC-ready in fanatical support and a zany, game-night stadium atmosphere.

“It’s every bit as big as the last game was,” said WVU first-year coach Dana Holgorsen. “It’s every bit as important as the next game will be.”

Few Mountaineer fans, however, share Holgorsen’s old-school, one-game-a-time approach.

Ticket demand for the game is off the charts, ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” show will be on the WVU campus for the first time for football, and local authorities have even taken preemptive measures to cut down on the notorious school tradition of burning couches after big Mountaineer victories.

There has also been talk about West Virginia, which seems to be watching its Big East Conference disintegrate around it, as a possible candidate to join the SEC.

But be it restitution for 2007 or an audition for the future, LSU head coach Les Miles said his team will be walking into a boiling cauldron for the 7 p.m. kickoff.

The Tigers have been here before — though not specifically at 60,000-seat Miland Puskar Stadium — as it is their third road game against a ranked opponent in the season’s first month.

The Tigers have been up to the task, beating then-No. 3 Oregon 40-27 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and No. 16 Mississippi State 19-6 last week in Starkville.

“Those things benefited us,” Miles said. “We will expect a loud crowd, a quality opponent and we expect to play a tight game.”

“The LSU personality will take hold wherever we play,” he said. “There is a confidence and an enjoyment of a road venue that this team has now. I don’t necessarily look at it as adversity.”

LSU’s personality has been a dominant defense coupled with a no-frills, power running offense.

That led Holgorsen to remark, when asked for similarities between the teams:

“None whatsoever.”

The Mountaineers will bear little resemblance to the team LSU struggled to handle 20-14 last year in Baton Rouge.

Holgorsen brought to West Virginia the same pass-happy, up-tempo offense that he learned under Hal Mumme and Mike Leach and employed last season at Oklahoma State.

“(Holgorsen’s) background is one that shows he really knows how to throw the ball,” Miles said. “He has done a wonderful job wherever he has been.”

West Virginia is averaging 42 points while throwing for 356 yards a game, not really bothering with the old coaching dogma of establishing the run.

But Holgorsen admits his team hasn’t faced a defense like LSU’s.

“There’s as good as anything I’ve seen on tape,’ he said. “They’re as fast as any team out there and they’re playing with a lot of energy.

“And they’ve already been in some big games.”