Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
HOUSTON The Southeastern Conference has much faster football teams than the Big Ten, so LSU apparently decided to give Wisconsin a healthy head start Saturday night in the season opener for both teams at NRG Stadium's fast turf field.
Down 24-7 early in the third quarter, No. 13 LSU then slowly but surely returned to speed and outdistanced the No. 14 Badgers 28-24 in front of 71,599 at the Advocare Texas Kickoff.
'I think we did everything we possibly could have (to lose) until the latest possible time until we played best,' LSU coach Les Miles said. 'There's a resiliency and a competitiveness to them that said, 'OK we understand where we're at. We've dug ourselves a nice little hole here. Now, let's go get this done.''
The Tigers looked in dire need of some Advocare sports performance products minutes into the second half as they fell behind by 17 points a 2-yard touchdown run by Wisconsin tailback Corey Clement with 12:24 to play in the third quarter.
That followed a delay of game penalty against LSU for exiting the locker room from halftime too late. Then the Badgers promptly gashed the middle of the Tigers' defensive line for a 63-yard run by tailback Melvin Gordon to the LSU 12 to set up Clement's touchdown.
'I did a helluva job at halftime,' Miles said sarcastically. 'Adjustments? First play after half was a 63-yard run.'
LSU responded gradually with field goals of 30 and 47 yards by Colby Delahoussaye on its next two possessions to scratch to within 24-13. Then it scored two touchdowns rapidly and spectacularly on its next two possessions to take the 28-24 lead with 9:41 to play in the game.
Facing a third-and-21 from the Wisconsin 36, LSU starting quarterback Anthony Jennings found redshirt freshman wide receiver John Diarse in traffic for an intermediate gain. But Diarse churned and turned it into the first touchdown of his career by breaking three tackles and high stepping a fourth on his way into the end zone for a 36-yard score. Jennings rolled right and found true freshman Trey Quinn all alone in the end zone for a two-point conversion and 24-21 deficit.
Momentum was swinging. It was completely on LSU's side after free safety Jalen Mills perfectly baited tight end Troy Fumagalli into thinking he was open, then intercepted the pass from quarterback Tanner McEvoy at the Wisconsin 48-yard line.
With true freshman Leonard Fournette struggling at tailback, LSU turned to senior Kenny Hilliard, who raced through a big hole for 12, then another eight and finally a 28-yard gash for the touchdown and 28-24 lead with 9:41 to play in the game. Hilliard finished with 110 yards on 18 carries.
All that after LSU's passing and running game was putrid in the first half as the Badgers outgained the Tigers on the ground with 182 yards on 26 carries to 15 yards on 16 rushes by LSU in building a 17-7 lead at the break. Without an 80-yard touchdown pass from LSU starting quarterback Anthony Jennings to wide receiver Travin Dural to get the Tigers within 10-7 with 4:47 to go in the first quarter, LSU would have had only 56 yards 29 plays in the first half.
Jennings was just 5 of 15 in the first half for 120 yards, but he managed to find Dural behind the defense and tossed it about 25 yards on target. Dural sprinted the rest of the way for the touchdown. Jennings finished 9-of-21 passing for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Fournette had just 18 yards on eight carries.
Wisconsin went up 17-7 midway in the second quarter on a 14-yard touchdown run by Gordon after a fumble by LSU tight end Travis Dickson set the Badgers up at the LSU 31-yard line.
The Badgers took a 7-0 lead on their first possession of the game as wide receiver Reggie Love rambled 45 yards on a sweep handoff for a touchdown with 9:05 to play in the first quarter.