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There was a point in the second half, with roughly six minutes to go, and Wisconsin got a first down, trailing 28-24.
The camera shot to a jubilant woman wearing a Wisconsin jersey and a slice of cheese for a hat trying to find someone, anyone to high-five her in a sea of purple and gold. Next to her was what was either her boyfriend or husband, who limp-wristed a high-five with a look on his face like he’d just been force fed a pile of sand. In that moment, Saturday night’s entire game in Houston was explained.
What was a hideously stinging loss for Wisconsin was a remarkable turn of mentality and events for LSU. The Badgers had LSU dead to rights early in the first half, when 24-7 would mean nothing in the late ’90s WAC but everything to two teams who specialize in clock management, not getting down by too much, and running betwixt the tackles over airing it out.
But this is LSU, and Riverboat Les is still eating grass over on that side. Miles dialed up a fake punt that … honestly … ended up looking like a semi-win for Wisconsin after a deep pass inside the 10 yielded only a field goal, but the message was sent: it’s time to play.
From there, LSU capitalized on injuries (two defensive linemen were knocked out for Wisconsin) and desperation while the Badgers played the game like it was the last minute of any regular Nintendo Super Mario Bros. game in which the clock starts going at rapid speed.
Only it doesn’t in real life.
Melvin Gordon, the most elite of elite running backs for Wisconsin, totaled all of three carries in the second half, which was either due to injury or someone who needs his job status re-evaluated on Monday. Though Gordon isn’t the world’s best pass blocker, that shouldn’t matter … why are you taking your best player out up 24-7 worried about pass blocking anyway?
As for LSU, it’s hard to really pinpoint anything other than LSU being LSU, which is what Wisconsin normally is: the Tigers grind you down, wind you out, and run over you when it matters. Anthony Jennings wasn’t perfect, but he was elite when he had to be, which included a third-and-21 pass for a touchdown to bring the Tigers within three.
At the end of the game, Les Miles turned around to the crowd, hands waved as if to say, “Told y’all … was just making it interesting.”
Which is how LSU will go from here on out, as every Les Miles team does. You’ll need to knock his boys out. Flatly put, Wisconsin had them on the mat but never could figure out how the land that punch while they rolled around trying to avoid it, as so many teams have been unable to do before.