If only football games were 40 minutes long. Wisconsin rushed out to an early first-half lead behind a dynamic rushing attack and attacking defense. A score to start the second half gave Wisconsin a 24-7 lead. However, injuries to starting defensive lineman Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring doomed the Badgers' defense in the second half.
At full strength, the defense was fast and attacking, and held LSU to 132 first-half yards, 80 of which came on one long touchdown. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda deployed a variety of blitzes and shifting alignments to confuse the LSU offensive line.
Alas, injuries mounted in the second half, and the offense was unable to produce sustained drives. Then the defense just ran out of gas.
True freshman Lubern Figaro was suspect in the secondary and took poor angles on deep balls, one leading to the only LSU points in the first. He was eventually replaced by Paniel Jean in the fourth quarter, but by that time the damage was done.
It wasn't all bad for the Badgers' defense. Joe Schobert was all over the field, finishing with several big tackles and a forced fumble that led to a Badger touchdown. Michael Caputo and Michael Trotter also played well. Ultimately, though, the difference in the game was LSU's ability to hit a few big plays in the passing game.
Offensively, the Badgers were utterly one-dimensional. Melvin Gordon was his usual dynamic self, running for 142 yards and one touchdown. Corey Clement added 45 yards and a touchdown, along with the breakout of the running backs' new touchdown dance.
The debut of Tanner McEvoy, however, was significantly more mixed. Although he kept a few scoring drives alive with his escapability, he was way too inconsistent in the air. The redshirt junior finished 8-of-22 passing with two interceptions.
As inefficient as McEvoy was throwing the ball, the Badgers had the game exactly where they wanted it with a big second-half lead. Once LSU closed the gap to 24-10 after a fake punt that lead to a field goal, the offense promptly answered with consecutive three-and-outs. Both drives included long shots down the field that were no where near being complete.
Understandably, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was feeling confident and wanted to keep the pressure on LSU by continuing to score points. However, the passing game is clearly not a strength, especially in Week 1. Under the guise of hindsight being 20/20, grinding LSU down with the running game and wearing its defense out in the trenches seems to be a better fit for the current talent on the roster.
With all said and done, Wisconsin showed it can play with national championship-caliber teams. A four-point loss in a de facto road game to a perennial top 10 team is not the end of the season. What stings most was losing command of a very winnable game. Although I don't believe McEvoy was the sole contributor to the loss, you have to wonder if Joel Stave doesn't get a few series next week against Western Illinois.
Despite tonight's heartbreaking loss, Wisconsin is still capable of beating every remaining teams on its schedule and winning the Big Ten West Division's inaugural season. Can't ask for much more than that, can you?