Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

September 20, 2011

Hype begins for WVU-LSU matchup

BLUEFIELD — It is the biggest game in Morgantown since the 2007 loss to Pittsburgh that ruined West Virginia’s hopes of playing for a national championship.

How big?

ESPN College GameDay has been in existence for 25 years, and has never been to Morgantown.

That will change on Saturday when No. 16 West Virginia (3-0) welcomes No. 2 LSU (3-0) to Milan Puskar Stadium for an 8 p.m. contest that will be televised nationally by ABC.

“We look forward to welcoming GameDay to Morgan-town,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I know our fans will turn out and show their strong passion for West Virginia football. It will be an exciting day on campus and for our football program.”   

The hype for LSU has been simmering for months, but it wasn’t until after West Virginia defeated Maryland that it could reach the level that will be seen on Saturday morning when GameDay broadcasts its immensely popular pregame show from the shadows of Mountaineer Field.

Holgorsen is trying to keep his team focused on the task at hand, which is a giant test against an SEC giant that has won two national championships in the last eight years (2003, ’07).

LSU is used to the attention. While the Mountaineers have never been a part of GameDay, the Tigers will be the featured game for a second time this season (Oregon, Sept. 3) and 16th time in school history.

“For the program it’s good, for the city of Morgantown it’s good and for West Virginia University it’s good,” said Holgorsen, in a Sunday teleconference. “All that will be handled through administrators, and our jobs as players and coaches is to focus on the game.

“Our job is to eliminate as many distractions as we possibly can and go through the weekly routine.”

That won’t be easy.

How big is this game? West Virginia students have a reputation for burning couches after big wins. An e-mail has already been distributed on campus, declaring that all furniture must be inside by Thursday night, and can’t be brought back out until Sunday.

LSU enters this contest as a 6-point favorite, but the Mountaineers played the Tigers close last year in Baton Rouge, dropping a 20-14 decision.

Many observers feel that if West Virginia can win this game, their schedule is favorable enough to run the table in the Big East and possibly complete an undefeated regular season.

Holgorsen doesn’t want his players to hear any of that kind of talk.

“You have to get your guys into a routine and you need them to focus on the task at hand,” Holgorsen said. “It’s about eliminating distractions, going to class, going to study hall and making sure your body is right.

“There is a lot on these guys’ plates from a student-athlete perspective to where they need to do the right thing every week.”

West Virginia survived a late comeback by Maryland last Saturday to defeat the Terrapins 37-31, while LSU’s defense allowed just six points in a 19-6 win over Mississippi State last Thursday.

LSU, which has alternated the second and third spot in the polls with Alabama since the season began, is second this week, according to the Associated Press pollsters, trailing only Oklahoma.

The Tigers have already defeated Oregon 40-27 in the season-opener, despite having its starting quarterback out due to suspension. Jarrett Lee has filled in just fine, while the LSU defense has allowed nine points in its last two games, and are ranked sixth in the nation in total defense.

“I’ve glanced at them defensively, but I haven’t really studied them. I’m not smart enough to get a game ahead, and (last) Thursday night I reluctantly watched the game, which obviously LSU look really good in,” Holgorsen said. “That was just me as a spectator more than a coach, and I’ll worry about us Friday and Saturday trying to get ready to play.

“I’ve looked at very little, but I’ll spend the rest of (Sunday) night doing that. They’re obviously a good team. It doesn’t matter how many seniors they had last year, especially defensively, they’ll just replace them with guys who are every bit as good.”

Holgorsen has brought in a prolific offense, and it has played the part, averaging 42 points per game. However, the Mountaineers haven’t faced anyone with the depth, size or speed possessed by the Tigers.

He was happy with the improvements shown against Maryland — which included three 100 yard receivers — but knows LSU will provide the ultimate test to his high-powered system.

West Virginia is ranked seventh in the nation in passing (356.0), but 107th in rushing, although it was better at Maryland. LSU is sixth in total defense, third against the run, 15th in scoring, and 19th against the pass.

“We played better (against Maryland). Game three was better than games one and two. It all starts with blocking, and we did a better job of finishing blocks,” Holgorsen said. “We showed up in the run game and were able to get into the end zone a couple of times on the ground.

“It’s a work in progress; we have our work cut out for us this week. I hope our offense isn’t going to be judged on what happens next week from that standpoint; LSU is really good on defense.”

Let the hype continue to build, even if Holgorsen is doing his part to downplay the importance of what awaits.

“Every game is big — we’ve been preaching that since we got here,” Holgorsen said. “Our jobs as coaches is to get the guys ready to play; whether you’re playing Marshall, Norfolk State, Maryland or LSU, it doesn’t matter.

“The weekend after (LSU) is going to be another one. We get into a routine and do our best to prepare each day to put ourselves in position to win the game on Saturday.”

 •••

All wasn’t good news for the Big East on Sunday when the ACC made it official, accepting Syracuse and Pittsburgh as the newest members of the league.

While the Big East will add Texas Christian next season, that will still leave the conference just seven football-playing members in what is a constantly changing landscape of college football.

Rumors are have been rampant that West Virginia is looking to leave too, possibly to the SEC, Big 12 or even the ACC.

West Virginia Athletics Director Oliver Luck isn’t saying much.

"There is no question that the landscape of college athletics is once again changing,” said Luck, in a press release. “West Virginia University has great tradition as the state’s flagship land-grant institution, and we will continue working to do what’s best for our University and its athletic teams.

“No matter how the college athletic landscape changes, there is no doubt WVU is and will remain a national player."  

Holgorsen, in his first season at West Virginia, admitted he hadn’t had time to think about the defections of the Orange and Panthers, which will affect the Mountaineers in the future.

“I’ve had a busy couple of days myself. We took care of business (Saturday), and obviously there is no time to rest or relax,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve had a full day today getting the Maryland game over with and moving on to the next one, which happens to be LSU.”

•••

The popular GameDay broadcast will begin on Saturday at 9 a.m. on ESPNU, and will also be on ESPN from 10 a.m-noon.

The program, which breaks down all the biggest matchups of the day, will be hosted by Chris Fowler, and he will be joined by Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso, Erin Andrews and David Pollack.

Herbstreit and Brent Musberger will serve as announcers for the ABC telecast that begins at 8 p.m. Andrews will be the sideline reporter.

— Contact Brian Woodson

 at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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