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.
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.
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.