HOUSTON – In the end, the narrative of SEC dominance emerged in No. 13 LSU’s 28-24 victory over No. 14 Wisconsin. But the Badgers threw in a juicy plot twist, charging out to a 24-7 lead before LSU dominated the second half to salt away a victory. Here are three things we learned from the Tigers’ win.
1. Les Miles executes yet another glorious trick play
Les Miles began his 10th season as the Tigers coach by pulling a vintage trick play out of his stiff-brimmed hat. With LSU trailing 24-7 early in the third quarter, things looked bleak. The pro-LSU crowd was listless and the Tigers’ offense looked like a sputtering replica from Gary Crowton’s final years at LSU. But Miles changed everything by faking a punt on a fourth-and-four early in the third quarter by snapping the ball to up-back Kendell Beckwith. He bulled ahead for five yards, snared a first down and LSU capped that drive with a 30-yard field goal to cut the Badgers' lead to two scores. The Tiger comeback was on. “The momentum change at that point was significant,” Miles said. “Our guys started feeling it.”
On the sideline, LSU’s players were stunned by the play call. No one had any idea LSU was faking the punt, as tailback Kenny Hilliard said he was talking to running backs coach Frank Wilson and looked up to see LSU snag a first down and the game’s momentum. “He’s always going to have one up his sleeve,” LSU linebacker D.J. Welter said.
2. Why did Melvin Gordon disappear from the game at such a crucial time?
LSU’s ability to corral momentum coincided with the mysterious disappearance of Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon from the Wisconsin offensive game plan. He opened the third quarter with a 63-yard run, but carried the ball just three more times the rest of the game. Nobody gave an adequate reason why. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen was asked explicitly why Gordon didn’t get more second-half carries after the 63-yard gain. “I don’t know that,” he said. Gordon wound up finishing with 16 carries for 140 yards.
Gordon didn’t offer a concise explanation either. “I don’t know,” he said when asked why he didn’t get more carries. “They went with Corey [Clement] and we didn’t get to do what we needed to do that drive, which was OK. Corey’s a great player. He could have got the job done.”
Gordon denied getting injured, saying, “Nah, I was good, man. I was all good.”
In the span of four quarters, Gordon went from Heisman candidate to Madison’s man of mystery. And once he stopped touching the ball, the Badgers went from a dynamic one-dimensional team to a pedestrian one-dimensional team. “It was predictable,” Welter said, “but we still had to stop them.”
3. LSU won a sloppy game ... which is a positive sign for the future
LSU will only get better this season. Luckily, Miles was in midseason form when discussing the evolution of the Tigers: “I think we played sloppy and I think we did everything we could have possibly done until the latest possible time to do it, before we decided to play [our] best.” Got that? Good.
LSU sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings finished 9 for 21 for 239 yards, 80 of which came on a touchdown pass to Travin Dural (an awkward play that looked as natural as Navy, or some other non-passing team, scoring on a long pass).
The most disconcerting part for LSU was that it averaged just 2.7 yards per carry against Wisconsin’s revamped defensive front. Hilliard finished with 110 yards on 18 carries, but he was the only productive LSU rusher. Freshman tailback Leonard Fournette was very un-Jordan like in his much-anticipated debut, finishing with 18 yards on eight carries. If LSU can’t run against Wisconsin, it will really struggle against the SEC West. LSU has talent at receiver with players like Dural and John Diarse, but Jennings will be more of a game manager this year than a gunslinger. We’ll let Les sum up the Tigers, who he aptly described as “imperfect.”
“We’re a blue collar team that will fight like hell,” Miles said, “and get in competitive games and scrap you.”