MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Russell Shepard comeback tour has begun, though albeit on a quiet note.
The junior LSU receiver made his season debut Saturday at No. 16-ranked West Virginia, trotting out on the Tigers’ first offensive play.
Shepard had been ruled ineligible for LSU’s first three games after he spoke to a teammate during the summer about that teammate’s pending interview with an NCAA investigator.
The Tigers started in a three-receiver set with Shepard, Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr.
Shepard also lined up in the backfield during the first half and gained 3 yards.
Shepard caught his only pass in the third quarter, a 16-yarder from Jarrett Lee to the Mountaineers’ 19-yard line.
Kicking it around
LSU freshman kicker James Hairston took over the kickoff duties Saturday and had an immediate impact.
His first kickoff went to the 3-yard line, marking the Tigers’ deepest kickoff this season. His second kickoff sailed deep into the West Virginia end zone for the first of two touchbacks. Hairston’s average: 66.4 yards per kick.
Hairston’s debut means he will no longer be eligible for a redshirt this season. Drew Alleman and D.J. Howard shared kickoff duties during the season’s first three games, but LSU coach Les Miles said last week he was looking for improvement in that area.
Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and the entire ESPN gang were on the WVU campus Saturday to broadcast “College GameDay,” the first time the show has visited the school. West Virginia officials estimated 13,000 fans turned out to watch.
Corso slipped on Mike the Tiger’s headgear at the end of the show to signify he was picking LSU to win.
Some feel the eccentric Corso’s pick is a curse, but LSU is now 9-1 when he dons the Tiger head.
The Tigers had a frightening moment with 6:53 left in the second quarter when Craig Loston went down as he tackled kick returner Tavon Austin at the 16.
Loston lay motionless for several moments before walking off unassisted. ABC’s Erin Andrews reported Loston passed his concussion testing, but he was held out the rest of the game.
LSU defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan also went down with injuries in the first half but both returned.
Cornerback Ron Brooks went down on the opening second-half kickoff but walked off.
Right tackle Alex Hurst suffered an unspecified head injury and did not return in the second half. Greg Shaw had to move to right tackle and Chris Faulk, who injured his ankle Sept. 15 at Mississippi State, returned to left tackle.
Offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert left with an unspecified leg injury in the third quarter and did not return.
Crunching the numbers
Morris Claiborne’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter was LSU’s longest since Eric Martin went 100 yards against Kentucky in 1981. It is LSU’s 15th special teams touchdown in seven seasons under Miles.
West Virginia honored former linebacker Darryl Talley during the first quarter of Saturday’s game, presenting him with a plaque in the south end zone. Talley will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.
From 1979-82, Talley amassed 484 tackles as a four-year starter at West Virginia. He later went on to star for Buffalo in the NFL, helping the Bills reach four Super Bowls while registering a club-record 1,137 tackles.
Talley will be the 12th Mountaineer to enter the College Football Hall of Fame.
In a rush
As part of West Virginia’s annual Gold Rush promotion, fans were encouraged to wear gold Saturday. Also, EZToUSe.com provided 55,000 gold rally towels that waited on seats for fans as they entered the game.
The listed capacity of Milan Puskar Stadium is 60,000, but Saturday’s attendance was 62,056.
Did you notice?
LSU running back Spencer Ware took a direct snap at quarterback and gained a first down with about five minutes left in the game to the WVU 21.
Ware rushed for a game-high 92 yards on 23 carries.
LSU’s traveling party got a jolt just before midnight Friday, when fire alarms went off at the team hotel in Canonsburg, Pa.
The cause of the alarm was apparently a problem with a microwave in the hotel kitchen.
Faces in the crowd
Among the people seen at Saturday’s game included New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, former U.S. Sen John Breaux and former Tennessee Titans and Ohio State running back Eddie George, who was calling the game on radio.
The Morgantown Dominion Post newspaper reported that several LSU students were detained for disrupting classes Friday on the West Virginia campus. No arrests were reported. LSU spokesman Herb Vincent said he had no knowledge of the incidents. … The Tigers return home to Tiger Stadium for just their second home game of the season Saturday as they host Kentucky (2-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference), a 48-10 loser Saturday to Florida. … Kickoff is set for 11:21 a.m. on the SEC Network (WAFB-TV). … Freshman defensive lineman Jermauria Rasco also saw his first college action. … This was the farthest LSU has traveled Northeast for a game since a 14-13 win at Boston College in 1947.
Advocate sportswriters Scott Rabalais, Scott Hotard and Les East contributed
to this report.