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LSU vs. Wisconsin: A Tale of Two Halves

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LSU struggled through the 1st half Saturday. Only to turn it on in the 2nd half and steal a victory.

Bob Levey

Yesterday, ESPN College Gameday's Twitter dropped this interesting stat on us:

The stat is somewhat astonishing. Naysayers will probably point to the fact that LSU is often a team that shouldn't be needing to come from behind in the 4th quarter. Yet, this is also a remarkable testament in Miles' ability to handle tough situations, stick to the plan and ultimately triumph.

Despite seeing our team do this every. single. year., it's still far too easy to throw up our hands and give up... way before the team on the field actually does. Trailing 24-7 in Houston to a talented Wisconsin team with only 8 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter looked dire. Probably to everyone, except Les Miles. There's a certain calm confidence he exudes in these situations, which often flows right into his players. It's a blade of grass, a wry smile, and a "we got this" mentality. Which really speaks to Miles' evolution as a coach, considering we've seen him flustered in late-game situations before. There seems to be a point where he's now seen it all, so trailing by 17 with over a quarter a half to play is really nothing new.

LSU's performance directly reflected this. LSU responded on Saturday by dropping 21 unanswered points on the way to victory. That's a dominating performance, yet in the midst of it, it never really seemed so. LSU just slowly chipped away, using a mixture of quality possessions and big plays to put dents into a Wisconsin defense that looked otherworldly for most of the 1st half.

Just take a look at the numbers.

Offense

Stat 1st Half 2nd Half
Yards 137 238
Plays 29 35
Yards Per Play 4.72 6.8

That's a pretty astounding differential. How about just the fourth quarter:

Stat 4th Quarter
Yards 145
Plays 19
Yards Per Play 7.63

7.63 YPP would put LSU in the top 15 nationally in YPP after week one. Looking at the top 15, most every team up there played against highly inferior competition, unlike we did. We managed only four first downs in the first half, but 8 in the 2nd. Obviously we scored 21 second half points to just 7 in the first.

Defense

Stat 1st Half 2nd Half
Yards 208 112
Plays 37 23
Yards Per Play 5.62 4.86

The 1st half featured a "slowly being bled to death" feel. Wisconsin pretty much ran as they saw fit, though weren't exactly explosive, outside of a 45-yard TD on the jet sweep. The 2nd half numbers do look better, though not immaculate, until you peel out a single 63-yard run from Melvin Gordon to open the 2nd half. From that point forward, LSU allowed only 49 yards for Wisconsin's next 22 plays. Wisconsin managed only 3 2nd half 1st downs, after putting up 6 in the 1st. The defense rose to the occasion, in some part aided by Wisconsin foolishly benching their best player, for reasons that are yet unknown.

Ultimately, this victory is a testament to the young maturity on this team. Teams with great character don't fold, throw up their arms and quit when the circumstances aren't ideal. They keep chipping away, knowing eventually they'll break through. This victory is some combination of grit, depth and tremendous coaching adjustments. The former two we saw play out live, the latter we will need to delve into in film study.

LSU wasn't perfect. Could it have been 1st half jitters? Highly possible. The end result looked much prettier than the process. LSU outgained Wisconsin, posted a higher TOP, better YPP, more 3rd down conversions, and, oh yeah, they won the game. Miles said we played sloppy and waited till the last possible time to play best. Kinda like Ice Cube in It Was a Good Day, the Tigers fucked around and got a triple double.