HOUSTON (AP) — Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon said he can already hear the critics.
After watching a 17-point lead dissolve in dramatic fashion in No. 14 Wisconsin’s 28-24 loss to No. 13 LSU on Saturday night, Gordon said he knew what was coming.
“Obviously, people will say, `Wisconsin can’t win a big game,'” Gordon said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll be hearing that all year.”
Gordon had 144 yards on 16 carries but was held to just 3 yards on two carries in the pivotal fourth quarter. Wisconsin’s decision to abandon Gordon and the running game was puzzling to many, leading some to wonder if Gordon was injured.
“There was a little bit of a scenario with Melvin being ready to go at halftime, but he came out, hit the long run and seemed OK,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said, referring to a 63-yard run to start the second half.
That run set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Corey Clement that gave Wisconsin a 24-7 lead with 12:24 remaining.
LSU’s comeback was fueled by Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy’s fourth-quarter struggles. McEvoy said he was told he would make his first college start just before the game on Saturday night.
McEvoy completed just 8 of 24 passes for 50 yards, throwing two interceptions in the fourth quarter. In McEvoy’s defense, Andersen said the offensive line played poorly.
“When you can’t protect the passer, it doesn’t matter who you throw out there,” Andersen said. “The guy was running for his life.”
In the noisy environment heavily colored purple and gold, McEvoy had to go to a clapping snap so the center could hear him.
“I made a few mental mistakes, but that happens, and it can be the difference in winning and losing,” McEvoy said. “They’ve got a great defense and we’ve got a great offense, but we’ve got to make some plays when they’re there and we didn’t.”
The Tigers trailed 24-21 when Jalen Mills intercepted McEvoy’s pass at the LSU 47 with 11:04 left. Kenny Hilliard ran for 53 yards on the ensuing drive, sprinting through a hole on the right side to finish off the improbable comeback.
The Badgers seemed to have the game in hand after Clement’s touchdown in the third. At that point, Wisconsin had a 290-136 edge in yardage.
Colby Delahoussaye kicked two field goals and Anthony Jennings threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to John Diarse to start LSU’s rally. Jennings hit Trey Quinn for a 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to three.
“They battled,” Andersen said of LSU. “They hung in there. I thought both teams fought like crazy. They made one more play than we did and won the game in the end.”
The Badgers dominated the game until the sudden turn of events in the final quarter. Wisconsin outgained LSU 182-16 on the ground in the first half and Gordon’s long run to start the third seemed to continue the momentum. Wisconsin mustered only 65 yards in the fourth quarter.
Hilliard finished with 110 yards rushing after being held to 11 in the first half. Jennings went 7 for 18 for 176 yards. He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural in the first half and for most of the game, it seemed as if it might be the lone highlight for LSU.
The Badgers’ defense, which lost eight starters from last season, shut down LSU’s running back trio of Hilliard, Terrance Magee and freshman Leonard Fournette. Wisconsin’s offensive line, meanwhile, was having its way with LSU.
Gordon had nine carries for 64 yards in the first quarter, including a 20-yarder to the LSU 45. On the next play, McEvoy faked another handoff to Gordon and gave it to receiver Reggie Love, who weaved to the end zone. The Badgers have led the nation in 40-plus yard runs in each of the last two seasons.
A 22-yard scramble by McEvoy set up a 51-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone and Wisconsin led 10-0.
LSU started a drive early in the second quarter with a false start penalty and then Travis Dickson took a short pass from Jennings and fumbled at the LSU 24. Gordon found another big hole and scored from 14 yards out with 7:36 left in the half.
Tight end DeSean Smith dropped an easy pass and Jennings badly overthrew Dural on the Tigers’ next series. Miles turned to freshman Brandon Harris for a series and that didn’t change anything – he was sacked on third down and LSU punted again.
After Clement scored, Jennings found Dural for a 44-yard gain to the Wisconsin 8. But LSU settled for a 30-yard field goal by Delahoussaye. Delahoussaye tacked on a 47-yard field goal later in the third quarter to close the gap to 24-13.
Wisconsin defensive end Konrad Zagzebski left in the first quarter with an apparent neck injury. He was taken off the field on a stretcher. Andersen had no update on Zagzebski’s condition after the game.