Plenty of questions after LSU falls flat in opener

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin – LSU went from Lambeau leaping to “Limbo Rock,” as in, “How low can you go?”

The soon to be not No. 5 ranked Tigers fell flat on their face in a 16-14 loss to unranked Wisconsin on an otherwise gorgeous, crisp Saturday afternoon in the Lambeau Field College Classic in front of 77,823 in the Green Bay Packers’ storied home stadium.

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Wisconsin jumped all over lackluster LSU, gaining 339 yards with 21 first downs in balanced fashion while holding the inept Tigers’ offense to five drives of less than nine yards and a long of 49. LSU (0-1) scored just one offensive touchdown on a drive of 41 yards in two plays as tailback Leonard Fournette caught a 31-yard pass from quarterback Brandon Harris, who then hit wide receiver Travin Dural for a 10-yard touchdown and 14-13 lead with 4:21 to play in the third quarter.

Other than those two completions, Harris was 10 of 19 for 90 yards with two interceptions and often looked as if he was playing his first game as opposed to starting his second season.

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The second interception sealed the win for the Badgers (1-0), who snapped Les Miles’ 42-0 record as LSU’s coach in non-conference, regular season games. The Tigers had a first down at the Wisconsin 45 with under two minutes to play after a 15-yard burst up the middle by Fournette, who gained 138 yards on 23 carries. But a false start penalty of five yards against right guard William Clapp followed. Then Harris threw it right to safety D’Cota Dixon, who baited Harris somewhat into the throw.

And it was over as Wisconsin ran out the final 57 seconds for the victory. After the Fournette 15-yard run, LSU had plenty of time to inch closer in for a Colby Delahoussaye field goal.

“We were right in position to win it. It was not what we wanted,” Miles said.

“Tremendously so,” he said when asked how disappointed he was in the game.

“It was shocking for everybody, but we can’t let one loss determine our season. It’s too early,” LSU defensive tackle Lewis Neal said.

Or maybe it’s already too late.

“We knew what was at stake this season,” said senior cornerback Tre’Davious White, one of 17 starters returning to a team expected to have its best season since winning the SEC and going to the BCS national championship game in the 2011 season at 13-0.

“Our goal was to go undefeated and win the national championship,” White said. “Our guys in the locker room are hurting so bad.”

White did all he could. LSU looked dead entering the third quarter down 6-0 after being more than doubled in yardage at 180 to 64. Then Wisconsin shredded the Tigers like cheese on a 58-yard drive in five plays for a 13-0 lead. Then White turned the game around with a 21-yard interception return to get the Tigers with 13-7 with 5:28 to go in the third quarter. White then recovered a fumble three plays later at the Wisconsin 41. The Tigers took the 14-13 lead three plays later.

But LSU’s offense never managed another prolonged drive, going 26 yards in seven plays and punting, then a three and out and then the Harris interception after moving 40 yards in six plays.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin senior quarterback Bart Houston made his first career start and hit 19 of 31 passes for 205 yards. Tailback Corey Clement led the Badgers in rushing with 86 yards on 21 carries and a 5-yard touchdown for the 13-0 lead in the third quarter.

“It was a lot of fun,” Houston said.

“It was electric,” senior linebacker Vince Biegel said. “It was everything I thought it would be and more. I grew up in Wisconsin. I went to Green Bay Packer games. I’m used to the stadium being green and gold, and for it to be red and white was a special moment. And give credit to our fans. They were as advertised.”

Wisconsin’s fans outnumbered LSU fans in the stadium 60 percent to 40 percent in another upset.

“Far from perfect, but our guys just kept playing and found ways to make plays,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “There were times where we really were physical. I thought that both lines, the front seven defensively especially, were really coming off the ball and that was good to see.”

Make that most of the time. Wisconsin sacked Harris twice and had three other stops behind the line. The Badgers stuffed twice for no gain on third-and-one and fourth-and-one plays from the LSU 45 late in the second quarter. Wisconsin turned Fournette’s missed fourth down into a field goal and 6-0 lead.

“We’ve just got to get back to work,” center Ethan Pocic said. “There were spots here and there where we weren’t all on the same page.” 

Wisconsin dominated LSU’s offensive line throughout the game with the Tigers’ coaching staff desperately trying to find an answer as it kept replacing new starting tackles K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby with Maea Teuhema, but there were breakdowns up the middle as well as Clapp looked like he was favoring the foot he wore a protective boot on during Friday’s walk-through.

“It seems to me there were some guys (from Wisconsin) who were not necessarily blocked. We didn’t move the football like we were capable,” said Miles, who struggled with play calling management even with all his assistants on the sidelines in a new move this season. “There was some difficulty getting some plays in. We have to do some work on that.”

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was the picture of dejection as he walked off the field.

“It’s more than a quarterback. It’s a team issue,” said Miles, who looked as fallen as Cameron and as shell shocked as his players.

“I don’t know how you keep them up,” he candidly admitted. “The truth is they are going to have to come back to work and find a resiliency.”

(© 2016 WWL)


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