BATON ROUGE, La. – Patrick Peterson couldn't help himself.
He stopped in the end zone near the rollicking student section in Tiger Stadium and struck that familiar stiff-armed pose he'd seen in old highlights of Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991.
Yellow flags flew for excessive celebration. They may as well have been confetti at the time. No. 15 LSU had a 17-point lead over 22nd-ranked West Virginia after Peterson's slashing, 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, and the star cornerback and return man had added another highlight to his own Heisman Trophy resume tape.
"I got too overboard," Peterson said of his Heisman pose. "I just have to calm it down next time."
The return, Peterson's second of the year for a score, wound up being a crucial play in LSU's hard fought 20-14 victory over a Mountaineers squad that would not quit on Saturday night.
"I saw Morris Claiborne make a big block to break things open to start, and once I hit that hole I just kept running," Peterson said of his return. "Then I saw Jai Eugene way down field waiving me down, saying, 'Come this way.' So I headed his way and I was able to take it to the end zone."
The play came one week after he had two spectacular interceptions in LSU's 29-7 win over Mississippi State. His first punt return for a score went for 87 yards in the Tigers' season opening win over North Carolina.
Against West Virginia, the Tigers (4-0) again had to rely heavily on defense and special teams to remain unbeaten. Jordan Jefferson had a third straight game throwing for fewer than 100 yards and no touchdowns. He was also intercepted twice and was pulled for a series in the fourth quarter.
LSU coach Les Miles tried to look on the bright side of LSU's win but did not dismiss his club's lingering inability to move the ball through the air.
"I was just in locker room with an undefeated, 4-0 football team. A lot of teams would like to be in that position," Miles said. "Our team is playing great on defense, very good on special teams. ... Our quarterback play has got to get better, it's just that simple. Our guys know it."
Jefferson's second interception, picked by Eain Smith, set up Geno Smith's 13-yard scoring strike to Jock Sanders, which got WVU (3-1) to within 17-14 in the third quarter. But the closest the Mountaineers came to scoring after that was Tyler Bitancurt's missed 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Bitancourt also had a field goal blocked by Lazarius Levingston in the first quarter. Peterson was originally credited with that big play, too.
Stevan Ridley rushed for 116 yards, including 1-yard TD run for LSU, and Josh Jasper added field goals 49 and 23 yards.
WVU's Noel Devine, who had at least 111 yards in each of the Mountaineers' first three games, managed only 37 yards on 14 carries against the stingy Tigers' defense. Coach Bill Stewart said his star runner was struggling with a foot injury after being hit out of bounds.
"That was a tough one to lose, and it is going to stick with me for a long time," Stewart said. "I do not like missing two field goals. I do not like giving up a punt return. I do not like us not handling the pressure" on the quarterback.
Smith did not take a sack, but was forced to hurry several inaccurate passes before being blasted by hard charging LSU defenders. He finished 14 of 29 passing for 119 yards and two TDs, the first going for 5 yards to Stedman Bailey for West Virginia's first points at the end of the second quarter.
"We lacked in a few areas, especially on special teams," Bailey said. "All the points they had we pretty much gave to them. We had too many turnovers and they just capitalized."
Smith was intercepted once by freshman defensive back Tyrann Matheiu, who also recovered Ryan Clarke's fumble on the WVU 7 in the first quarter, setting up Ridley's TD — the only touchdown scored by LSU's offense.
Peterson took care of the other.
"He is fearless and he's got great confidence and ball skills and great speed," Miles said, lamenting that Peterson missed other chances to return punts because he was dehydrated and being given fluids by the training staff. "When he's hydrated, he's the best in the country, arguably."
As for the Heisman pose that drew a flag, Miles said, "I don't expect those issues to pop up again."
LSU finished with 230 total yards of offense, but the Tigers' defense bailed them out by holding West Virginia to 177.
LSU backup quarterback Jarrett Lee played for one series and completed his only pass for 5 yards, but did not get a first down. Jefferson, who was booed several times, came back for LSU's final series, when the Tigers were able to run out the clock.