LSU will seek improvements after Wisconsin win

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Kenny Hilliard gave the Tiger offense a boost in the second half against Wisconsin as he finished the night with 110 yards rushing. Photo by LSUsports.net.

Since 2005, no team has been better than LSU when trailing in the fourth quarter.

Heading into Saturday night's opener against Wisconsin, the Tigers had won exactly half of the games in which they trailed in during the final period. Things didn't change against the Badgers.

After being dominated for much of the contest and falling 17 points behind in the second half, LSU was sparked by yet another Les Miles gamble.

Down 24-7, he chose to go with a fake punt. The way the Tigers were struggling to move the football, it didn't look very significant, but it ended up being the biggest play of the game.

After converting the fourth down, LSU dominated--scoring 21 unanswered points and collecting the 28-24 victory.

The win extended the Tigers' college football record for most consecutive regular-season wins against non-conference opponents to 46. Excluding bowl games, Miles has never lost to an opponent outside of the SEC.

As thrilling as the victory was for LSU, it also showed how much work the Tigers have ahead of them if they want to compete in the SEC. As good as they were late, they were just as bad for the first two and a half quarters.

Until the mid-way point of the third quarter, the offense was downright putrid against a Wisconsin defense that only returned three starters from last year.

They got a huge 80-yard touchdown connection from Anthony Jennings to Travin Dural, but it proved to be their only highlight for much of the game.

The Tiger offensive line was expected to be one of the top units in the nation as they brought back four starters, but they were dominated by Wisconsin's front for much of the game--only paving the way for 16 first-half rushing yards.

When Jennings began to finally settle in during the second half and connect on throws, the running game finally got the jolt it desperately needed.

All of the hype surrounded true freshman running back Leonard Fournette to start the game, but it was senior Kenny Hilliard that shined the brightest. He put the team on his back and piled up 110 yards rushing--including a 28-yard touchdown run that won the game for the Tigers.

Just like in his first start against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, Jennings struggled to complete passes. He only connected on nine of 21 attempts, but the nine completions added up to 239 yards and two scores.

Dural proved that he'll be the Tigers' big-play guy all year as he caught three passes for 151 yards and the one touchdown.

Defensively, LSU's front was victimized early. The Badgers gashed them for 268 rushing yards throughout the course of the game. Stud running back Melvin Gordon ate up most of those yards as he rushed for 140.

However, after Wisconsin's opening drive of the second half, the Tiger defense finally stepped up and showed their potential--blanking the Badgers for the rest of the game.

Though the run defense struggled, the secondary was great--holding Wisconsin to just 50 passing yards and picking off Tanner McEvoy twice.

The Tigers should get a big boost this week as they welcome back five players that didn't make the trip to Houston.

Malachi Dupre--the nation's top receiving prospect from 2014--should be ready to go after sitting out of the Wisconsin game with a sprained ankle.

The defense will add to its depth when linebacker Ronnie Feist and reserve defensive tackle Maquedius Bain return from their one-game suspensions, and the secondary will get even better with the return of suspended cornerback Rashard Robinson.

Finally, the offensive line will get a boost with the return of starting center Elliott Porter--who was also suspended for the Wisconsin game.

The Tigers can't afford to relish in their thrilling win against the Badgers. They welcome a FCS power in Sam Houston State on Saturday night.

With the Tiger Stadium expansion during the offseason, it will be the most heavily-attended home game in LSU history--most likely filling its 102,000-plus capacity.