LSU has some familiarity with the distinctive schemes West Virginia runs, having played the Mountaineers last season.
The Tigers offensive players will recognize the 3-3-5 defensive scheme they will see Saturday night in Morgantown, W.Va., as the same one they saw in LSU’s 20-14 victory last season in Tiger Stadium.
But the Tigers defensive players won’t recognize the no-huddle, pass-oriented offense first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen brought with him after record-setting stops as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, Houston and Texas Tech.
“We’re going to be challenged again but in a little different way by the West Virginia offense,” Tigers coach Les Miles said Monday at his weekly news luncheon. “It is a much different attack than it has been in the past. They had (running back) Noel Devine and a number of guys that operated differently. They still run the ball effectively and throw the ball very well. As much as it is different, it is still very productive.
“Rushing the passer is generally the same, but the combinations in how they get it off and put their passing game together is much different. It requires some adjustment.”
Quarterback Geno Smith passed for 388 yards in a 37-31 victory at Maryland on Saturday, and for the first time in school history, three Mountaineers had 100 receiving yards in the same game.
Through three games, 16th-ranked West Virginia (3-0) is averaging 42.0 points and 434.7 yards. It averages 12.3 yards per completion and 2.6 yards per rush.
“His background is one that shows he really knows how to throw the football,” Miles said of Holgorsen. “His teams are comfortable in the no-huddle and in-tempo offense. He has done a wonderful job wherever he has been with an offense.
“I’ve followed him and understand the style of offense he runs. I see how accomplished he is at running it.”
Miles said Arkansas has the offense that most closely resembles the Mountaineers among teams LSU has faced in recent seasons.
“These guys are very comfortable throwing it and putting it in the air,” Miles said, “but also have a quarterback that can pull it down and make some plays with his feet.”
Last season, the Tigers held West Virginia to 177 yards, limiting Devine, who had more than 4,000 rushing yards in his career, to 37 yards on 14 rushes and Smith to 10 on five. Smith completed 14 of 29 for 119 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
But the focus of this year’s offense is Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Ivan McCartney, Stedman Bailey, and Devon Brown.
LSU did a very good job of slowing down Oregon’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense in a 40-27 season-opening victory. The Tigers continue to practice a tempo drill in which the offense snaps the ball as quickly as possible to produce a break-neck pace. The drill seemed to have the defense well-prepared for the Ducks offense.
“I think that set the tone for the whole season,” safety Eric Reid said. “We trained for it in camp, and (the coaches) almost beat us to death. Our bodies are used to it now, and it should hold for the whole season.”
Safety Brandon Thomas said LSU still runs the tempo drill for three periods in each practice.
“I think the coaches are going to continue having us do that because you never know when people are going to bring that on you,” he said. “We didn’t really expect Mississippi State to be running a hurry-up offense, but they did (last week).
“(The Mountaineers) run a no-huddle offense and just check at the line and look at the sideline and get the plays from their coaches and run the plays. I kind of like it because it keeps us up tempo and more mentally focused on the game.”
Guard T-Bob Hebert said focus will be crucial for the offense against the West Virginia defense, which moves players around before the snap and rushes from a variety of angles.
The Mountaineers did not allow as many as 24 points in any game last season, although Maryland put up 31 last week. They held LSU to a season-low 230 yards.
“They run an unorthodox scheme,” Hebert said. “It’s something you don’t see week in and week out if you see again at all the entire season.
“They rush the passer well. We’ve got to work harder both mentally and physically than we did last year in order to do better on the field Saturday.”
Hebert said the Tigers linemen have to recognize where the Mountaineers rushers are coming from and be sure to account for everyone on the fly.
“It creates a lot different angles and a little bit different assignment calls,” he said, “so you’ve just got to make sure that during the week you prepare as much as you can so that everybody is on the same page.
“They can do a lot of different things with the way they line up, so that’s a game where you have to make sure that you’re real disciplined as an O-lineman because if you break off and follow a man that you’re not supposed to. That leads to sacks.”