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Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana

HOUSTON Two days before the holiday, LSU players and coaches labored arduously and sloppily to a 24-7 third quarter deficit, but come the 11th hour, NRG Stadium may as well have been Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. And the clock struck midnight for No. 14 Wisconsin in a 28-24 loss in front of 71,599 in the 2014 season opener for both teams.

'I think the point was made that it's time, it's time. It's time that we stopped shooting ourselves in the foot,' LSU coach Les Miles said.

But when he told his team that at halftime while down 17-7, it was also time to be back out on the field, and the Tigers did not make it. A five-yard delay of game penalty was assessed on the kickoff.

On the very next play, Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon made it look like LSU's defense was still in the locker room as he sprinted 63 yards up the middle to set up a touchdown and a 24-7 lead with 12:24 to play in the third quarter.

'Whatever they were, they weren't very good,' Miles said when asked about his adjustments in his lengthy halftime. 'Because on the opening drive, they scored, right? So after that, I said I did a hell of a job at halftime.'

The labor continued on LSU's first possession of the third quarter as it found itself on the verge of its fourth three plays-and-punt drive in seven possessions, including a fumble by tight end Travis Dickson in the second quarter that set up a Wisconsin field goal. About time for a fake, right? It was fourth-and-four from the LSU 43, and things looked bad for the 13th-ranked Tigers.

'We felt like we had to make a play, and we didn't have the right personnel in the stinking game,' Miles said. 'I was madder than hell.'

But it worked for the madder hatter. Middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith lined up between the center and punter, took the fake punt snap, faked right and ran off left tackle for five and the first down. Suddenly, LSU had a little something going. 'It was a right call, and it was a right time,' said Miles, who specializes in such things.

'Typical Les into the bag of tricks,' ESPN announcer Sean McDonough would say. McDonough knows this side of LSU. He did Warren Morris' home run at the 1996 College World Series and Miles' first LSU game when his Tigers came back from a 17-7 deficit to win 35-31 at Arizona State on Sept. 10, 2005.

'The momentum change was significant,' Miles said. 'I think our guys started feeling it, and our opponent realized that we're not going anywhere. And they (the Badgers) were going to have to play until the bitter end.'

LSU drove on to a 30-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye, cutting Wisconsin's lead to 24-10 with 7:41 to go in the third quarter. 'They went down and got three points, which changed the game,' Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. 'It was a nice job as far as a momentum swing.'

But not before LSU was guilty of a delay of game penalty just before the field goal. 'I think we played sloppy,' Miles said. 'I think we did everything we could have (to lose) until the latest possible time until we played best.'

Suddenly, LSU's defense, which had allowed 247 yards rushing to this point, started making stops after the momentum-shifting fake field goal.

'I can't tell you the number of missed tackles,' Miles continued as if his team had not won.

Then it forced a three-and-out punt of just 25 yards by Wisconsin punter Drew Meyer, who helped keep LSU in the game. LSU drove 30 yards in nine plays for a 47-yard field goal by Delahoussaye, and Wisconsin's lead was 24-13.

LSU's defense forced another three-and-out punt, and Meyer responded with a 26-yard punt. The mostly LSU crowd sensed the kill and began a constant buzz. The Tigers went 59 yards in eight plays for a touchdown but not before true freshman tailback Leonard Fournette dropped a pitch for an 11-yard loss.

'Young players made a lot of mistakes,' Miles said.

Undaunted on third-and-21, sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings found redshirt freshman wide receiver John Diarse of Monroe for the play of the game. Diarse caught the ball in traffic at the 25, broke three tackles and high stepped a fourth for the touchdown. 'He made a little move and into the end zone he goes. I thought that was a timely play,' Miles said.

'I think we build our program off of that,' Diarse said. 'Coach Miles does a great job of training us to fight during the fourth quarter. We got down at the beginning, but we picked it up in the second half. And in the fourth quarter, we really took it up a notch.'

Then Jennings sprinted right and hit true freshman wide receiver Trey Quinn for the two-point conversion, cutting Wisconsin's lead to 24-21. Jennings was just 5-of-15 passing for 120 yards in the first half with 80 of that on a touchdown pass to wide receiver Travin Dural to cut Wisconsin's lead to 10-7 in the first quarter.

He finished only 9 of 21, but for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

'I think we saw some young guys grow up tonight,' Miles said.

At last, LSU's talent was showing itself and overcoming its own mistakes. This continued when safety Jalen Mills baited quarterback Tanner McEvoy into thinking tight end Troy Fumagalli was open, and Mills intercepted the pass at the LSU 47.

Senior tailback Kenny Hilliard immediately gashed Wisconsin's inside defense for 17, then eight and finally for a 28-yard touchdown and 28-24 lead with 9:41 to play and the clock nearing midnight.

'At the end of the day (and game), they ran the ball well, and they made a gigantic play the last touchdown that broke the game open,' Andersen said.

'I think our mind wasn't in it during the first half,' said Hilliard, who gained 110 yards on 18 carries. 'We came out in the second half and had a little bit more firepower with us.'

Not done yet, Wisconsin mounted a drive from its 25 to midfield, but safety Ronald Martin picked off McEvoy this time. It was over, and NRG Stadium had transformed into Tiger Stadium.

'That atmosphere was great,' said LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, who led LSU with eight tackles and two behind the line with a quarterback hurry. 'I haven't felt that in a long time. It was great. Everybody was with us and pumping us up. We fed off it.' Miles felt it, too.

'It was a home game in Houston,' he said. 'We surely enjoyed pulling up to the stadium and seeing purple and gold, and certainly inside the stadium it was a stark contrast to our visitors.'

When Miles and his Tigers (1-0) walk up to Tiger Stadium on Saturday to host Sam Houston State (1-1) at 6:30 p.m., he plans on his team packing quite a bit more precision.

'The number of mistakes made by young players, the number of misfires that stopped us from playing like we're capable,' he said, 'will all be addressed in very orderly fashion as we go through this week.'

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