HOUSTON - An already young Wisconsin defensive line got even younger after its season opening loss to No.13 LSU. And if both senior Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski are out for an extended period of time, the results don’t appear to be favorable for the Badgers.
“I think Warren and Konrad getting hurt was a big blow,” said junior linebacker Joe Schobert. “We lost a lot of depth on that d-line and couldn’t rotate as much.”
Zagzebski went down during LSU’s second offensive series on a run play after his helmet was thrust into running back Kenny Hilliard’s chest, bent awkwardly and was then landed on. Originally laying motionless on the field, Zagzebski was eventually taken off on a stretcher and to a hospital for observation before being cleared to fly back with the team.
Wisconsin was able to survive by containing the run and consistently apply pressure to LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings, but the defensive line could ill afford the loss of Herring, who went down at the end of the third quarter. Clogging the middle of the line, Herring’s leg was bent backwards after being rolled on by one of his teammates. Herring needed two trainers to help him get over to the Wisconsin sideline and left the stadium on crutches with his right leg immobilized.
“We will have to see and evaluate with the trainers, get information, and see how it goes from there,” said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen.
Having Zagzebski and Herring both out made running the football a lot easier for the Tigers, as they attacked a young inexperienced defensive line. After holding the Tigers to 49 rushing yards through the first three quarters, LSU recorded 77 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
“Even when they’re not in the game, they’re in rotation and with their experience, they see what’s going on, they see what the o-line is doing,” said Schobert. “I think not having them definitely took a leadership role away from the d-line and the younger guys.”
Not only was Wisconsin weakened on the line, the Tigers started executing more read-option plays that senior linebacker Marcus Trotter admitted the Badgers weren’t ready to defend.
“I think they started to integrate more 11 personnel, which means one running back one tight end and with that they can run it as well as pass it deep,” Trotter said. “I think they were running the speed option. They were running zone read and they were hitting us a lot in the zone read. We were running calls that we weren’t use to going against a zone read so they out schemed us with that. When the momentum is going on their side, we have to counteract that and that’s why football is a four quarter sport.”
Although much of the hype around the LSU running game was on true freshman Leonard Fournette, it was the Hilliard who stole the show. After being held to 17 carries on seven yards entering the third quarter, Hilliard has 93 yards on 11 carries in the final quarter, including the go-ahead 28-yard touchdown with 9:41 remaining.
“I think our mind wasn’t in it (game) during the first half,” Hilliard said. “Our senior and junior counselors got together, brought everyone up and told us to stay with it. “That’s what we did. We came out in the second half and had a little bit more firepower with us.”
“I guess we could use that as crutch if we wanted to, but we had enough kids to go out and play so we expect them to go out and play at a high level,” Andersen said. “It was very tough to lose Warren (Herring). These guys are seniors and leaders. They are very good football players, and we hope we can get them back soon.”
Although it is still to be determined how long Herring and Zagzebski will be out, the young defensive lineman are going to have to be ready to step up and fill two major losses.
“People have to step up,” Trotter said. “That’s the nature of the game. It’s a very physical sport so we have some veterans going down. We need some young guys to step up. For every team it’s tough when that happens and we just need them to step up.”