HOUSTON — No. 13 LSU (1-0) overcame a 17-point deficit with 21 unanswered points in the second half to defeat No. 14 Wisconsin (0-1), 28-24, in front of a record crowd at NRG Stadium in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff late Saturday.
The Tigers won a nation-best 46th-straight non-conference, regular-season game. In the process, with a 22nd fourth-quarter comeback, LSU also improved to 7-3 under head coach Les Miles when trailing by 10 points or more at halftime.
Trailing 24-7 after the Badgers marched 75 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, the Tigers took control of the game on both sides of the ball.
After allowing 257 rushing yards in the first half plus the first drive of the second half, LSU’s defense stiffened. The Tigers allowed only 28 yards of total offense for the duration (27:24) while forcing three punts and intercepting two passes in the second half.
While its defense found a way to dominate, LSU’s offense slowly picked up its own rhythm throughout the evening. The Tigers answered the early score in the second half with field goals of 30 and 47 yards by Colby Delahoussaye to get within 11 by the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, LSU dominated. The Tigers rallied behind running back Kenny Hilliard’s 110 rushing yards with a touchdown on 18 carries – 11 of which came in the fourth quarter for 92 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings, who started for the second time in his career, managed the game well and connected with wide receiver Travin Dural for 151 of his 176 passing yards. He was 7-of-18 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. True freshman Brandon Harris played one series and did not attempt a pass.
After being held to 16 net yards on 15 carries in the first half, LSU ran 32 times for 110 yards in the second half. LSU punted only once in the final 30 minutes – after taking the lead late in the fourth quarter.
LSU’s only turnover of the game, a fumble in the second quarter at its own 31, led to a Wisconsin touchdown.
Badgers’ starting quarterback Tanner McEvoy finished 8-of-24 passing for 50 yards and two interceptions. He ran for 40 yards, while Melvin Gordon led Wisconsin with 140 with a touchdown, while Corey Clement and Reddie Love each added 45 yards and a touchdown.
Wisconsin won the coin toss and elected to defer its decision until the second half. With its back to the south end zone, Fournette took the opening kickoff and returned 13 yards to the LSU 15. A 5-yard designed run by Jennings on third-and-4 gave the Tigers a first down at their 26, but Magee missed a screen pass from Jennings and Jamie Keehn came on to punt for the first time.
After Keehn’s 45-yarder, Wisconsin recovered a fumbled snap then converted a third-and-4 with a 6-yard slant to wide receiver Alex Erickson. On second-and-11, Gordon got loose around the left end and dashed for 20 yards to the LSU 45 before Reggie Love put Wisconsin on the board with an end-around that he cut inside and out-ran the Tigers to the endzone.
The point after touchdown gave the Badgers a 7-0 lead with 9:05 left in the quarter.
A 25-yard kickoff return by Fournette gave the Tigers better starting position at its 27 on the second offensive drive of the game. Hilliard gained a first down with a 10-yard catch from Jennings but the drive stalled when a third-and-5 pass to Dural sailed wide. Keehn’s second punt went off the side of his foot for only 19 yards to the Wisconsin 39.
The Badgers took advantage of the field position and entered LSU territory with a 22-yard scramble by McEvoy, who escaped the pocket and eluded a sack attempt by Jermauria Rasco on the play. Wisconsin managed on four more yards before Rafael Gaglianone made a 51-yard field goal to push the lead to 10-0 with 5:07 remaining in the quarter.
LSU struck for the first time against a Wisconsin defense that had crept too close to the line of scrimmage. Jennings rolled out of the pocket to his right, and rather than pull the ball down and run, he lofted a perfect pass over the head of two defenders and connected with Dural in stride. The 80-yard touchdown pass was the third-longest in LSU football history and the longest since Sept. 2, 2000.
With 4:47 remaining in the quarter, LSU trailed 10-7.
The teams traded punts on five-straight drives, with Keehn’s career-long 64-yarder that rolled out at the 16 and helped the Tigers out of poor field position.
LSU took over at its 29, and Jennings immediately looked deep to Dural again. This time his throw was just out of reach. On second-and-15, Jennings completed a short pass to tight end Travis Dickson, who was upended at the 31 and fumbled. Wisconsin came up with the ball.
LSU gave up a 7-yard run on an option pitch to the 19, and Gordon scored from 14 yards out two plays later. Wisconsin regained its 10-point advantage, 17-7, with 7:36 left in the half.
The Tigers gained one first down on its next possession, but each side’s defense forced four more punts prior to LSU’s final series of the half. In that final drive, Jennings completed a 12-yard pass to Hilliard for a first down to the LSU 43 and the Badgers were flagged for pass interference to move LSU into Wisconsin territory at the 43. Three-straight incomplete passes led to Keehn’s seventh punt of the half.
LSU trailed 17-7 at the break after managing only 16 net rushing yards on 15 attempts.
Wisconsin seized momentum on its first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, as Gordon waited for a hole to open in the middle of the LSU defensive line and dashed 63 yards to the LSU 12. After gaining first down on fourth-and-1 from the 3, Wisconsin’s Clement scored from the 2 to open a 24-7 lead on LSU with 12:24 left in the quarter.
The Tigers were able to answer, again going over the top with a 44-yard catch and run by Dural to the Wisconsin 8-yard line. LSU wasn’t able to advance past the 5 and settled for a 30-yard field goal by Delahoussaye that cut the deficit to 24-10 with 7:41 left in the third quarter.
LSU’s defense forced a quick three-and-out, and a 25-yard punt by the Badgers gave the Tigers’ offense good position at the 40-yard line. Jennings picked up a first down with an option keeper for seven yards to the Wisconsin 48. On third-and-7 from the 45, wide receiver John Diarse made his first career catch for 12 yards and first down at the 33. On third-and-7, Fournette couldn’t get a handle on Jennings’ screen pass and Delahoussaye came on to make a 47-yard field goal – keeping the Tigers momentum going.
LSU trailed 24-13 with 2:11 left in the third quarter.
With another three-and-out forced by its defense, the Tigers took the field to start what would becoming a dominating, early-season defining quarter of football.
Jennings overcame a sack with a 27-yard throw to Dural to the Wisconsin 25. On third-and-21, Jennings found Diarse for what looked to be a short gain and setup a field goal. Instead, the redshirt freshman receiver slipped four tackles and scored from 36 yards to cut the deficit to 24-21 with 12:08 left.
Two plays later, McEvoy was intercepted by Jalen Mills on an incredible grab by the LSU safety. Three Hilliard runs for 53 yards put the Tigers back in the endzone and in the lead for the first time. A 28-yard run by the senior back put LSU ahead 28-24 with 9:41 remaining.
Wisconsin managed two first downs with its best drive of the quarter, but Mills pressured McEvoy on a third-and-10 pass and safety Ronald Martin tracked down the floating pass at the LSU 23 for an interception. Martin returned to the 31 and Hilliard helped the Tigers to take four more minutes off the clock with four runs for 26 yards.
Keehn punted for the only time in the second half, and it was fair caught at the 10. LSU’s defense pressured the line of scrimmage to force a three-and-out, and Wisconsin punted with 1:26 remaining and three timeouts.
A 4-yard run by Hilliard on third-and-3 from the 42 gave LSU a first down and sealed the victory.
The announced crowd for LSU’s first game in Houston since 1983 was 71,599, the largest for a college game at the stadium.
— LSU Sports Information