Midway through the third quarter on Saturday night, LSU looked lethargic, LSU looked lifeless and LSU looked dead in the water. The Tigers trailed Wisconsin 24-7 and, facing a 4th-and-2 on their own 45, lined up to punt.
Only they didn’t. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith took a direct snap and rushed three yards for a first down. LSU wound up kicking a 30-yard field goal on that drive to pull within 24-10 – the first three of 21 unanswered points. Wisconsin didn’t score again and LSU won, 28-24.
You know what? Les Miles might be quirky, he might be funny and he might be a good sound byte. But he’s a hell of a football coach.
“Dumb like a fox. Dumb like a fox,” Sports Illustrated senior writer Pete Thamel said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “Anyone in America should have seen that fake punt coming. I mean, look, Les fakes everything, if you look back at his track record. (He’s) down 24-7, (he) needed a spark, the offense flatlined, (he) calls a fake punt (and it) sets up a field goal. (He’s) smart enough to kick the field goal from 30 yards even though they’re knocking at the door, and just the momentum changes. The momentum changes.”
“I will say his sideline acumen was helped by Wisconsin, which hasn’t decided yet if Melvin Gordon was hurt or if they just didn’t play him or what they did with him,” Thamel continued. “Because they put him in the freezer after that 63-yard run to open the second half.”
Gordon finished with 16 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown, most of that coming in the first half.
“They talked a little about a hip flexor (he may have suffered),” Thamel said, “but those were, to me, the two biggest turning points in that game: Wisconsin going away from Gordon and Les kind of faking the punt and then getting the ball to some of their talented receivers in space.”
Just how much better is Gordon than his back-up, Corey Clement? Clement had one fewer carry than Gordon – and 95 fewer yards. Even more odd? Gordon played in the second half on pass-blocking downs.
“Yes, and the more Wisconsin talks about it, the more confusing it gets, quite frankly,” Thamel said. “If you’re going to put him in, give him the ball. Clement was fine, but at the end of the day, Melvin Gordon’s your bell cow. He is the best back in America not named Todd Gurley. But quite frankly, if he gets 10 more carries in the second half, we’re talking about them on an equal plane right now.”
And so, even though Wisconsin dominated LSU for two-and-a-half quarters Saturday, Big Ten haters have plenty of new fodder about how the SEC has more speed and better athletes. That makes Saturday’s game between Michigan State and Oregon – arguably the best teams in the Big Ten and Pac-12 – all the more interesting. One, the Spartans will encounter speed in spades in Eugene, and two, the Big Ten really, really needs a high-profile non-conference win against an elite opponent.
Said Thamel, “If Michigan State loses – considering the Wisconsin loss (and) the Braxton Miller injury – there will definitely be some obituaries penned for that league.”