HOUSTON - The stage wasn’t too big for the University of Wisconsin…until the midway point of the third quarter. That’s when the lack of a passing game and the void of two big leaders cost the Badgers a chance to make a big early statement to the country.
Leading by as many as 17 points midway through the third quarter, No.14 Wisconsin could not stop No.13 LSU down the stretch, as the Tigers scored 21 straight points to survive with a 28-24 victory in front of a partisan 71,599 fans at NRG Stadium.
It’s Wisconsin’s first season-opening loss since 1997 and the 14th time in the last 15 losses that Wisconsin fell by seven points or less.
And like all the other ones, this one stung. Dominating on the ground and holding LSU’s offense in check, the running game stalled when Melvin Gordon (15 carries, 142 yards, one touchdown) appeared to injure his right hamstring and the defense started losing out on pressures and containment when Warren Herring limped off at the end of the third quarter.
After having only one play over 13 yards through three quarters, the Tigers (1-0) had five in the fourth quarter alone, including two on scoring runs that finally awoke the LSU fan base that coated the stadium’s red seats.
Making his first FBS start, junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy was virtually ineffective, throwing for 50 yards on 8-for-24 passing and two interceptions, both coming in the fourth quarter that continue feeding LSU the momentum. On the Badgers’ final five drives, Wisconsin averaged only 6.4 yards, two of which resulted in negative yards.
Wisconsin did lead 17-7 at halftime thanks to its defense and its running game. The Badgers held the Tigers to only 4.5 yards per play, stymied their running game and battering their quarterbacks, taking the large LSU contingent out of the game.
And while the Badgers defense held LSU to only 16 rushing yards, Wisconsin’s ripped off 182 yards, the most LSU has ever allowed on the ground in the first half under Les Miles, and 7.0 yards per carry.
But when senior nose tackle Herring hobbled off with an injury at the end of the third quarter, the Tigers pounced and never relented, earning their 22nd fourth-quarter comeback under Les Miles and keeping their 46 game nonconference winning streak intact.
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6 plays, 76 yards, 3:05 TOP, 9:05 remaining
Reggie Love 45-yard run (Rafael Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Making his first career FBS start, Tanner McEvoy calmly completed a six-yard inside slant route to Alex Erickson, keeping the drive going on third down.
6 plays, 28 yards, 2:07 TOP, 5:07 remaining
FG Rafael Gaglianone 51
Key Play: That's the power of a mobile QB. LSU dialed up a blitz and Tanner McEvoy danced his way past four tackle attempts for a 22-yard gain, a first down and into field goal territory.
1 play, 80 yards, :20 TOP, 4:47 remaining
Travin Dural 80-yard pass from Anthony Jennings (Colby Delahoussaye kick)
Key Play: Sojourn Shelton either got beat or was expecting safety help from Figaro over the top. Either way, Figaro was slow getting over and Dural made them pay.
5 plays, 31 yards, 2:34 TOP, 7:26 remaining
Melvin Gordon 14-yard run (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: The game's first turnover benefited Wisconsin, as linebacker Joe Schobert stripped Travis Dickson by putting his helmet on the ball. Michael Caputo recovered on the LSU 31.
5 plays, 75 yards, 2:36 TOP, 12:24 remaining
Corey Clement 2-yard run (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Melvin Gordon didn't wait long to make an impact in the second half, finding a gap and sprinting 63 yards before he was pushing out of bounds at the LSU 12.
9 plays, 50 yards, 4:43 TOP, 7:41 remaining
FG Colby Delahoussaye 30
Key Play: After successfully coverting a short-yardage fake punt, LSU's Travin Dural got the better of Darius Hillary, catching a 44-yard pass down the sideline to get LSU into the red zone.
9 plays, 30 yards, 4:00 TOP, 2:11 remaining
FG Colby Delahoussaye 47
Key Play: On third-and-7, Jennings hit John Diarse for 12 yards, giving LSU a first down at the Wisconsin 33.
8 plays, 59 yards, 3:12 TOP, 12:08 remaining
John Diarse 36-yard pass from Anthony Jennings (Quinn from Jennings)
Key Play: Wisconsin picked a terrible time for some terrible tackling, as three Badgers failed to wrap up on John Diarse's touchdown catch.
3 plays, 53 yards, 1:23 TOP, 9:41 remaining
Kenny Hilliard 36-yard run (Delahoussaye kick)
Key Play: Wisconsin's defense is a shell of itself without Warren Herring, as Hilliard had a huge hole to run through on his way to the end zone.
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