LSU wipes out deficit, sinks Wisconsin
By Moise Kapenda Bower
The Sports Xchange
HOUSTON - New season, same LSU.
No. 13 LSU scored on four consecutive possessions and staged a riveting second-half comeback to rally past 14th-ranked Wisconsin 28-24 on Saturday night in the Advocare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium.
The Tigers (1-0) extended their regular-season nonconference winning streak to 46 games by erasing a 17-point deficit. Wisconsin took a 24-7 lead when running back Corey Clement pounded his way into the end zone with 12:24 left in the third quarter.
LSU responded by doing what it has done repeatedly under coach Les Miles, improving to an FBS-best 22-21 since 2005 when trailing in the fourth quarter.
"There's a resiliency and a competitiveness that says, 'We've dug ourselves a nice little hole. Now let's get it done,'" Miles said.
Fittingly for the Miles-coached Tigers, momentum swung on a trick play. Facing fourth down at their 43-yard line on the possession immediately after the Clement touchdown, LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith gained 5 yards on a fake punt to kick start the comeback. LSU cashed in with a 30-yard Colby Delahoussaye field goal and then added a 47-yard Delahoussaye field goal on their ensuing possession.
"The momentum change at that point was significant," Miles said. "I think our guys started feeling it and our opponent realized that we're not going anywhere and they're going to have to play to the bitter end."
With momentum firmly in hand, LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Diarse with 12:08 left to play, with Jennings and receiver Trey Quinn connecting on the subsequent two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 24-21.
Diarse broke three tackles en route to the end zone after LSU picked up the Wisconsin third-down blitz. After LSU safety Jalen Mills picked off Badgers quarterback Tanner McEvoy, LSU converted again.
The Tigers briskly covered 53 yards in three plays, 45 on runs up the gut by running back Kenny Hilliard. The final gash carried Hilliard into the end zone from 28 yards, pushing LSU in front for the first time and punctuating the vulnerability of the Badgers after they lost defensive linemen Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring to injury.
After averaging just 1.1 yards per attempt on 15 rushes in the first half, the Tigers amassed 110 rushing yards after the intermission.
"They went to some read zone scenarios and they're good coaches and made some adjustments," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. "I thought we adjusted back to it pretty well and at the end of the day they ran the ball well and they made a gigantic play on the last touchdown they got that broke the game open. The kid (Hilliard) made a tremendous play."
Hilliard rushed for 110 yards and a score. LSU receiver Travin Duval caught three passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.
LSU extended its school record of season-opening victories to 12 consecutive games.
Running back Melvin Gordon led the Badgers with 140 yards on 16 carries but somewhat mysteriously had just four carries after the break.
"They went with Corey ... which is OK," Gordon said. "Corey is a great player. He could have got the job done. When I got back in (after LSU secured the lead), we were trying to pass the ball and get the ball down the field because it was limited time, obviously, so we had to score."
Wisconsin (0-1) had its streak of 16 consecutive season-opening victories snapped and dropped to 0-3 all time against the Tigers.
Save for Jennings' 80-yard touchdown pass to Dural that came on a broken play, LSU mustered next to nothing offensively in the first half. The Tigers produced more punts (seven) than first downs (six) and, subtracting the Dural catch-and-run, managed just 56 yards on 29 plays.
"I got more comfortable in the pocket, more comfortable with what the defense they were running," Jennings said after passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns. "My teammates calmed me down and got me in the groove of things."
The Badgers scuffled, too, but their conversion of an LSU turnover early in the second quarter proved critical, with linebacker Joe Schobert forcing the fumble and free safety Michael Caputo pouncing on the loose ball at the LSU 31. Five plays later, Gordon darted through a gaping hole before diving into the end zone, bumping the Wisconsin lead to 17-7 with 7:36 left in the half via his 14-yard run.
NOTES: Tigers QB Anthony Jennings became the first sophomore to start at quarterback for LSU in a season opener since Jordan Jefferson against Washington in 2009. ... Badgers DE Konrad Zagzebski was immobilized and taken off the field on a gurney following a first-quarter collision with Tigers RB Kenny Hilliard. Zagzebski appeared to motion with his hand as he was removed from the field. He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation. ... With his 12th and final carry of the first half, Badgers RB Melvin Gordon became eligible to break the Big Team career rushing average record of 7.27 yards per carry set by Ki-Jana Carter (Penn State, 1992-94). Gordon is averaging 8.12 yards per carry.