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LSU's Morris Claiborne (17) had the longest kickoff return since 1981.
Photo by:Steve Franz, LSU Athletics Staff Photographer
LSU Scores 20 Unanswered, Beats No. 16 WVU, 47-21
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Published: September 24, 2011, 11:06 PM (CT)
Updated: September 25, 2011, 11:58 AM (CT)
by LSUsports.net (@LSUsports), LSU Sports Interactive

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Ignited by a 99-yard kickoff return by Morris Claiborne and four forced turnovers, No. 2 LSU beat its third ranked opponent on the road this season, 47-21, on Saturday at No. 16 West Virginia.

LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) lost some defensive battles but won the war against the pass-happy Mountaineers. The Tigers were outgained, 533-366.

Once the fog that covered the field during LSU's late-game runaway lifted, the Tigers had scored 20-unanswered points and put away another top-notch opponent at its packed house.

It was LSU's 36th-straight non-conference victory in the regular season, dating back to 2002.

The Tigers will next play host to back-to-back SEC opponents, starting with Kentucky at 11:21 a.m. CT on Oct. 1. Florida visits Tiger Stadium on Oct. 8.

West Virginia fell to 3-1 overall.

After LSU pulled out to a 27-7 halftime lead, the Mountaineers got within six points late in the third quarter. West Virginia didn't score again after Claiborne's return, the longest by a Tiger since Eric Martin's 100-yarder against Kentucky in 1981.

LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee led the Tigers attack early, then turned it over to the high powered running attack. Lee had 132 of his 180 yards and all three touchdowns in the first half. He finished 16-of-28 passing without an interception or sack.

Meanwhile, LSU running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford carried the load as the Tigers pulled away. Ware had 92 yards on 23 carries, while Ford scored twice and had 82 yards on 12 carries. Alfred Blue also scored an 18-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Wide receiver Rueben Randle was Lee's favorite target, leading the way with six catches and 53 yards including LSU's 11-yard touchdown that opened the scoring. Odell Beckham Jr. added a pair of catches for 82 with a 52-yard touchdown, his first as a Tiger.

On the other side, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith set school records for passes (65), completions (38) and yards (463) with two touchdowns. However, he threw two interceptions and fumbled in the fourth quarter. Smith wasn't sacked, but LSU kept the elusive quarterback in the pocket for most of the game.

Speedy wide receiver Tavon Austin made 11 catches for 187 yards, while Stedman Bailey had eight receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. West Virginia's leading rusher was Dustin Garrison, who had 46 yards on 10 attempts with a 1-yard touchdown.

For the fourth time in as many games, LSU kicked off to start the game. After his team struggled to kickoff deep early in the season, Miles called on freshman James Hairston for the duty. With a great game that included LSU's first two touchbacks of the season, the rookie started with a boot to the WVU 3-yard line and the Mountaineers returned to their 29.

On the first play, a 20-yard completion from Smith to Bailey went to the WVU 49. However, the drive stalled after a dead-ball personal foul on center Joe Madsen pushed the Mountaineers back to their 37. Corey Smith's punt went off the side of his foot and nearly into the seating area, netting only 14 yards.

At its 42, the Tigers converted two big third downs against the West Virginia zone. Lee connected with Randle for 16 yards on third-and-8 and then 30 yards to Beckham Jr. on third-and-16 from the WVU 46. Two plays later, Lee found Randle in traffic for an 11-yard touchdown catch and a 7-0 lead.

The Tigers defense gave up a personal foul on the next drive, but otherwise shut down the Mountaineers again. On third-and-11, Smith completed a pass to wide receiver Brad Starks near the first-down marker. With Starks efforting toward the line, Mathieu tackled from behind and stripped the ball away. His school-record seventh forced fumble put the Tigers at midfield with 9:01 left in the opening quarter.

On the ensuing possession, Lee couldn't handle the snap on third-and-1 from the WVU 41, and Brad Wing entered to punt. Wing's 41-yard effort was downed by Mathieu at the 3.

The Mountaineers also converted a pair of third downs, advancing to their 40 before Smith's pass went off the hands of Austin and into the waiting arms of LSU safety Brandon Taylor. Taylor's first pickoff since 2009 was returned nine yards to midfield where Lee and the offense took over.

Ware earned two first downs to the 28 before Ford earned the rest. A 22-yard run by Ford was his fifth touchdown of the season and gave LSU a 13-0 lead with 1:49 left in the opening quarter. The PAT snap was fumbled by Wing.

The Mountaineers answered with their most impressive drive of the half, overcoming third-and-10 and third-and 13, and converting a fourth-and-4 from the LSU 36. Two plays later, Smith tossed a 20-yard catch and run to Bailey for a touchdown. After the 12-play, 73-yard drive, West Virginia cut the deficit to 13-7 with 12:30 remaining in the half.

When the momentum looked to be shifting away from the Tigers, Wing pinned the Mountaineers at their 4 with a 52-yard punt. West Virginia gained a first down to the 15, but went no further and returned the ball with a 50-yard punt that Mathieu returned 11 yards to the LSU 39.

On third-and-1 from the LSU 48, Lee faked a handoff, settled in the pocked and found a streaking Beckham Jr. ahead of his defender at the WVU 30. Beckham Jr. ran untouched for his first touchdown as a Tiger, a 52-yard catch and run.

The Drew Alleman PAT increased the lead to 20-7 with 6:57 remaining in the half.

Four-straight punts -- including a 60-yarder by Wing that was downed at the 5 -- and West Virginia took over with 1:34 before halftime.

Smith passed for consecutive first downs to the WVU 34 before the drive was stalled by two short catches and a holding call. Rather than declining the penalty and forcing West Virginia to punt with less than a minute to play, Miles elected to accept the penalty. On third-and-19, Smith dropped back and threw a short pass to his left. In his path was LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who tipped the ball in the air at the 20, caught it at the 16 and ran to the WVU 1 before being tackled.

Two plays later, Lee again used a play-action pass to find tight end Chase Clement in the back of the endzone for his first score as a Tiger.

LSU took a 27-7 lead into the lockerroom after scoring with 38 seconds left. The Tigers scored 13 points off turnovers in the half and had a commanding lead despite being outgained, 241-204. Smith completed 22-of-38 passes for 202 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Lee was 10-of-17 for 132 yards with three touchdowns in the half.

LSU opened the second half with a 32-yard return by Claiborne to the 38. The Tigers took no time to work the ball into the redzone with a combination of Ford and Ware running the ball and Lee's passes to Randle and Russell Shepard for first downs. However, a dropped ball in the endzone by Randle and a missed 30-yard field goal by Alleman gave new life to West Virginia. It was the first time LSU failed to score in the redzone in 43 trips.

The Mountaineers took over at the 20 and immediately put the ball in the hands of Austin, who rolled off a 38-yard run to the LSU 42. The second of consecutive passes to tight end Tyler Urban was caught in the endzone for a 12-yard touchdown that brought the crowd alive.

West Virginia trailed 27-14 with 8:40 left in the quarter.

A quick three-and-out ended with an underthrown pass to Russell in West Virginia territory, and Wing came on to punt. His 51-yard kick was fielded at the WVU 8, where the Mountaineers took over.

The teams traded punts, with Wing landing his sixth of the evening inside the 20.

With momentum on its side, West Virginia looked for the speedy Austin across the middle. A 72-yard catch and run to the LSU 18 setup a screen pass to freshman running back Dustin Garrison the LSU 1. Garrison scored on the next play and West Virginia cut the LSU lead to 27-21 with 1:16 to play in the third quarter.

Claiborne gave the Tigers the shot in the arm they needed, returning the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, extending the lead to 34-21 with 1:00 left in the quarter.

The special teams play put the Tigers defense back on the field with little rest, but the ultra-deep unit was able to come up with another stop. Linebacker Luke Muncie and cornerback Tharold Simon each broke up passes that could have been intercepted. On fourth-and-4, Smith attempted a quick pass that was far off the mark.

LSU gained possession at its 43, using the short field to its advantage to put the final nail in the coffin. Ware was dominating on the drive, gaining 16 yards after spinning out of a tackle's arms behind the line of scrimmage. He then gained 11 yards on a pass from Lee and gained the first down when fullback James Stampley blocked two defenders at the line of scrimmage.

Ford took advantage of Ware's breather by sprinting 15 yards for a touchdown. LSU went for a two-point conversion that was unsuccessful and led 40-21 with 9:55 remaining.

Smith led West Virginia in LSU territory, but fumbled a snap and defensive end Lavar Edwards jumped on the ball at the LSU 45.

Running exclusively, LSU worked its way inside the redzone before Alfred Blue scored on an 18-yard run with 3:03 left in the game. Blue's scamper put the Tigers ahead 47-21, and send the fans to the exit.

The announced crowd was 62,056.

 

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