BATON ROUGE, La. – During the ups and downs of Les Miles' tenure with LSU the past few seasons, the coach's record has remained perfect in one respect.
The Tigers haven't lost regular-season games to teams from outside the Southeastern Conference.
LSU lost to a non-SEC team only once — to Penn State in last season's rain-soaked Capital One Bowl — since Miles took over in Baton Rouge in 2005.
Miles' teams have lost only one Saturday night contest in 92,000-seat Tiger Stadium, and that was to then-No. 1 Florida and Tim Tebow last year.
So as No. 22 West Virginia (3-0) arrives in Death Valley on Saturday night to take on the No. 15 Tigers (3-0) it's little wonder that oddsmakers made LSU a more than one-touchdown favorite.
The Mountaineers are aware that Tiger Stadium has been called "the loudest place on earth" by college football enthusiasts. It once got so loud, seismographic instruments on campus registered vibrations similar to a small earthquake. Still, they say they won't be intimidated.
"We've never been in that kind of atmosphere. ... I'm expecting a crazy one," West Virginia standout running back Noel Devine said. "That's when you just want to go in and quiet all of the critics, quiet their fans and just go and play ball and show people in the country what we're capable of doing."
Mountaineers head coach Bill Stewart spoke of Death Valley — which according to lore was initially nicknamed Deaf Valley — as if the stadium itself was as much a concern as the Tigers.
"I'm just going to tell the guys to stay the course. We're going to rally around each other. We're going to bond and have that love that only a team can have. We know it will be loud. We know it will be hostile, and that's OK," Stewart said. "Teams have not been too successful down there in Tiger Country, and maybe we will be blessed a little bit better."
The atmosphere should not be entirely foreign to West Virginia, which visited Auburn last year and led through three quarters before giving up 14 unanswered points in a 41-30 loss.
LSU players say they expect West Virginia to present their toughest test yet. As dominant as LSU's defense has been — with six sacks at Vanderbilt and five interceptions last week against Mississippi State — the Tigers haven't seen a running back quite like Devine this season.
No team has held Devine to fewer than 111 yards in a game yet. He rushed for 131 yards in the Mountaineers' 31-17 victory over Maryland last weekend.
"Noel Divine is a tremendous running back, and when you look back on the year, you will see that he was one of the best that we have played," Miles said.
WVU has been promoting Devine as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and a big game for him at Tiger Stadium against a defense allowing 80.3 yards rushing per game would advance that cause.
Meanwhile, West Virginia's pass rush hit its stride last weekend with eight sacks against the Terrapins. That got the LSU line's attention, given how sacks plagued the Tigers last season when defenses got to quarterback Jordan Jefferson 34 times.
"I know how good our defensive line is and I'd love to see them get eight sacks in a game," LSU guard Josh Dworaczyk said. "So you hear about another defensive line who has eight sacks, and looking at their defense ... obviously speed's a big deal for them and something they do and train for getting around the edge and bringing different blitzes. We just have to be able to pick it up."
WVU also appears to have the better passing game at this point. Sophomore Geno Smith has established himself as WVU's quarterback of the future, throwing for 800 yards and seven TDs in three games.
LSU has been forced to win primarily with defense and secondarily with its ground game.
Jefferson has passed for fewer than 100 yards in each of LSU's past two games, but Miles pointed out that while he'd like to see the Tigers' highly regarded receivers more involved, there was little reason to air it out in a pair of three-plus touchdown victories.
This could be the week for LSU to get the ball to receivers Shepard, Terrence Toliver and Rueben Randle. While the Mountaineers have allowed only 62.7 yards per game on the ground, they've been burned deep a few times. One dilemma for WVU is what to do about defensive back Brandon Hogan, who had a drunken driving arrest and was suspended indefinitely. Hogan was allowed to return to practice this week, but Stewart said that didn't necessarily mean he'd play.
Hogan's replacement, Pat Miller, was beaten on TD passes of 60 and 80 yards against Maryland.
"We can't continue to give up the big play because it's going to come back to haunt us," Stewart said. "I'm not in a panic mode. We know what we have to do. ... It's just sometimes youngsters have to make a play."