HOUSTON, Texas—Defensive halftime adjustments Saturday night were decisive in the Tigers’ 28-24 come-from-behind win against Wisconsin.
In the first half, LSU struggled to stop the Wisconsin offense, particularly the ground game powered by junior Heisman Trophy hopeful Melvin Gordon.
LSU coach Les Miles said he had trouble finding a solution for Gordon and the ground game for a majority of the night.
“Whatever [the adjustments at halftime] were, they weren’t very good because the opening drive they scored,” Miles said. “So after that I said I did a hell of a job at halftime.”
On Wisconsin’s opening drive Gordon ripped off a 20-yard rush to the left side of the field, setting up a Badger 45-yard jet sweep resulting in a Wisconsin touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
The trend continued for the Tigers throughout the first half as the Badgers offensive line opened gaping holes along LSU’s defensive front.
The Badgers held a 17-7 lead at halftime after gaining 173 rushing yards on 25 carries along with two rushing touchdowns in the half.
The first play of the second half was a 63 yard run up the middle by Gordon, setting the Badgers up for a touchdown to extend their lead to 24-7, forcing Miles to doubt his halftime adjustments after Wisconsin’s first drive.
The adjustments began taking hold for the Tigers on defense after the touchdown, which was the last points Wisconsin scored in the game.
The Tigers stacked the box confident the secondary could handle the passing game.
“They weren’t passing too often, so that gave us some opportunities to put more people in the box,” said LSU senior linebacker D.J. Welter. “We benefited from that because they are a pretty good run team. That’s their bread and butter.”
From then on the Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage, forcing the Badgers to go three and out on consecutive drives.
“I think the point was made that it’s time,” Miles said. “It’s time. It’s time that we stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Badgers were struggling to find a groove in the passing game after only completing five passes for 33 yards in the first half.
Junior safety Jalen Mills and junior cornerback Jalen Collins contributed an interception and a pass breakup, respectively. In the absence of sophomore defensive back Rashard Robinson, Collins added six tackles in a performance that left his head coach impressed.
“It appeared to me Jalen Collins maybe played and tackled as well in this game as any game he’s played,” Miles said.
The Tigers held the Badgers’ passing game to only 50 yards with a 33.3 percent completion percentage for the night.
Mills came up with a decisive interception early in the fourth quarter, which led to LSU senior running back Kenny Hilliard’s 28-yard, game-winning touchdown run, followed by senior safety Ronald Martin’s interception with six minutes to go, sealing the victory.
“I had just told coach Miles and coach Wilson and the whole offensive line that I was going to get them the ball,” Mills said. “We needed a big play from the defense and we were struggling at first and I just came through.”
Behind an improved defensive effort, led by the secondary, the Tigers were able to chip away at the Wisconsin lead, eventually overtaking it with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter and never looking back.
“They helped us swing the momentum fully our way towards the end of the game,” Welter said. “I feel like they are always up for the competition whenever they get tested. They are out there on an island by themselves, but they are always up for the challenge.”
You can reach Jack Chascin on Twitter @Chascin_TDR.