Ahead of the first-ever College Football Playoff, the Big Ten has two non-conference games in which to make a statement to the committee that will select the four teams that will take part in the mini-tournament: Week 1, Wisconsin vs. LSU, and Week 2, Michigan State vs. Oregon.
Shortly after midnight, Wisconsin officially fumbled away the conference’s first opportunity.
After taking a 17-7 lead into the halftime locker room, and pushing that lead to 17 early in the third quarter, the Badgers watched helplessly as the Tigers outscored them 21-0 the remainder of the second half to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A wide asleep Tiger offense abruptly awoke in the third quarter, aided in large part to a pair of key losses to Wisky’s defensive line.
The Tigers opened the game with eight of their first nine offensive series consisting of four plays or less. Six of those drives ended in punts, one a turnover and the other an 80-yard touchdown pass. From the third quarter on, however, it was like someone flipped a switch on LSU’s offense as the Tigers scored points on their first four drives of the half — two field goals, two touchdowns — to turn a 10-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead midway through the fourth.
Conversely, the Badgers’ offense suffered from a serious case of second-half narcolepsy, aided in large part by a suffocating Tiger defense. After giving up 202 yards of total offense in the first half, including 173 on the ground, LSU allowed just 116 the rest of the game. The Badgers were highly ineffective in the passing game, totaling a meager 50 yards in the air.
Tanner McEvoy aided the Tigers’ cause greatly as the Badgers quarterback, who was a starting safety last season, threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions. The first of those picks led to the go-ahead, and what turned out to be game-winning, touchdown.
In the end, the more talented, athletic team won out. It was, though, a missed opportunity for a Big Ten team to show that it could not only play with, but beat one of the best the the SEC has to offer.
And, if MSU goes down in flames like UW did Saturday night? The Big Ten could very well find itself on the outside of the inaugural playoff looking in.