By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb
If the 2014 LSU Tigers were a steak, they would be gritty, with no fat. And just a dash of Les.
After a first half that begat more questions than answers, including being out-rushed 8.2 ypc to a woeful 2.2 ypc, the Tigers emerged from halftime re-energized…
…and promptly allowed Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon to rush 63 yards up the middle, along the way to putting the Badgers up 24-7. The Tigers’ FBS record 44 game regular season non-conference winning streak looked to be in serious peril.
But then two things happened on the way to a Badgers' victory: first, Wisconsin inexplicably chose to stop hitting the A-gap. And before that happened, it wouldn’t be a key LSU game without a hint of madness from head coach Les Miles.
To no one’s surprise, LSU attempted a fake punt on the very next possession from its own 43 yard line. Wisconsin was waiting on it. No doubt half the press box and those watching at home was waiting on it too. Yet the Tigers executed better, converted, and went on to score the game's final 21 points.
This physical match-up ultimately turned on the health, or lack thereof, of the Badger’s defensive line, which along with its linebackers had a full compliment of seven new starters. After playing on their heads in the first half, Wisconsin had lost two of its three down linemen by the fourth quarter, and the Tigers’ big offensive line could finally start rolling downhill.
To Wisconsin’s defensive line woes you can add its questionable decision to put the forward pass ahead of its formidable rushing attack in the fourth quarter; this despite first year starter Tanner McEvoy already having a difficult evening.
With 12:08 to play, the Badgers had a 24-21 lead, the ball, were averaging 7.1 ypc, and had run 33 times to just 14 passes. Yet head coach Gary Andersen called more passing than running plays down that stretch, to disastrous effect.
McEvoy went 1/7 for nine yards in the Badgers’ final three possessions, including two costly interceptions – one of which LSU converted into the game’s winning points.
However, amid all the back-clapping and high-fiving, LSU shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it rushed 47 times for just 128 yards, and that includes Hilliards’ big romps in the fourth quarter, after Wisconsin had lost those down linemen.
Even with those fourth quarter yards, the Tigers finished at just 2.7 ypc. That had better improve before conference play begins in three weeks, when the Tigers host an emerging Mississippi State squad.
E-mail Pete Fiutak
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I was only half-joking throughout last season when I called Jared Abbrederis the most valuable player in college football, and Wisconsin’s loss to LSU showed exactly why.
Wisconsin wasn’t the better team in Houston, and it certainly wasn’t the more talented or athletic team, but it found itself in a perfect position up 24-7 midway through the third quarter. With a line like the Badgers have, and with a back like Melvin Gordon, run, run some more, pound out the game and get out with a shocker.
The easy narrative will be that Les Miles’ call for a fake punt changed the game, but it really didn’t. The Badgers held on after that allowing just two field goals until the wheels came off in the fourth quarter. Injuries to the defensive interior proved to be devastating, and LSU started to find its offensive groove against a gassed Badger D that couldn’t come up with a big stop as the game wore on. And why?
No Wisconsin passing game.
Once it became painfully obvious that the short LSU secondary wasn’t going to have any issue with the abysmal Bucky receiving corps, the D sold out against the run and there was just nowhere to go. Tanner McEvoy looked like this was his first time starting in the big leagues – he didn’t trust his pass protection a lick and was guessing on his throws – but there wasn’t anyone open. The result was an 8-for-24 passing day for 50 yards with two picks that ended up changing everything around.
This is still a good, strong Wisconsin team that could still roll through a mediocre Big Ten schedule and be in the hunt for – don’t laugh – the College Football Playoff if it can somehow get to 12-1 with a conference championship, but there’s no way, no how that happens unless there’s a wee bit of passing efficiency. Otherwise, let this game be the final proof of the rock-hard ceiling the program has hit.
It’s not okay to recruit to a type anymore, and it’s not okay to go through life without a real wide receiver.
E-mail Rich Cirminiello
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Earn a Ph.D. in college football … class is in session at
LSU is a young and raw team that’s going to get better as the season unfolds. Saturday night was a microcosm of the Tigers’ 2014 preseason scouting report.
LSU played miserably in the first half, looking as if all of those early NFL Draft entrants had finally caught up to Les Miles’ program. And they still very well might at some point this season. But against Wisconsin, the Tigers evolved in time-lapse photography, scoring the final 21 points to deny the Badgers—and the Big Ten—a much-needed signature win. Kenny Hilliard amassed a head of steam, Anthony Jennings and the young receivers began growing facial hair and John Chavis’ defense shut the door on the Wisconsin offense. And just like that, order was restored, at least for the time being, in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers have a long way to go before being considered anything more than an Outback Bowl threat. But they’ve got some time for the inexperienced kids to further develop; LSU won’t play away from home in more than a month, and upcoming games with Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe will help prepare the team for a Sept. 20 visit from Mississippi State. The Tigers should tighten things up over time. At Reliant Stadium, they only required the halftime intermission and a few minutes of the third quarter to flip the script on a potentially disastrous opener.
By Phil Harrison
Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFN
Wisconsin had it. The control, tempo, and flow of the game was all going its way. Then, on what seemed to be a flip of the switch, it all slowly melted away. What could have been a huge win for the program and the Big Ten Conference went down the drain with yesterday’s dirty dish water.
It was all going so well. The Wisconsin ground game had the LSU defense on its heels, the offensive-line was providing a push against the LSU front seven, and holes were opening up for Melvin Gordon and company. When that wasn’t working, new starting quarterback Tanner McEvoy was finding improvising running lanes to keep things going. Even the somewhat rebuilt defense was playing hard and fast against an athletic LSU offense.
Then the football-playoff-alarm-clock went off and LSU woke up in a startled if, not desperate frenzy. The Tiger defense began to bow its back, and the Badger running game began to fizzle. On offense, LSU began to decipher the code of the Wisconsin defense and used a bevy of big plays to score twenty-one unanswered points.
With the running game grounded, Wisconsin was unable to move the ball through the air on McEvoy’s arm. The incompletions piled up, and the inopportune interceptions sealed the fate of any chance Gary Andersen’s crew had at sneaking one last score in to stem the tide and steal a victory.
In the end, it was another Big Ten loss against an SEC team, and a missed opportunity.
Instant Analysis: LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
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