GREEN BAY, Wis. — In theory, it’s not over.
If LSU manages to win 11 games in a row, which would mean having a perfect SEC record, then wins the SEC Championship Game, there certainly would be room for the Tigers at the playoff table with the only blemish being a 16-14 road loss to open the year against a solid Wisconsin squad.
But for that to happen, LSU needs to fix … well, just about everything. With a few noticeable exceptions, this one was as ugly as it gets.
Inept is the only way to put it.
The Tigers were 2 of 10 on third down. They never had a drive with more than two first downs until the final one of the game. They never had a drive longer than 49 yards. And if they hadn’t started a drive on the plus-side of the 50, it feels safe to assume LSU never would have sniffed the end zone.
Leonard Fournette was Leonard Fournette, gaining 138 yards on 23 carries and making a nice 31-yard reception on Brandon Harris’ best pass of the game to set up Travin Dural’s 10-yard score.
Unfortunately for LSU, no one else is Leonard Fournette. Derrius Guice blew his chance to be an effective changeup, putting the ball on the grass on his first touch.
The outcome would have been a lot worse if not for a strong performance by a defense that often found its back against the wall.
Rickey Jefferson had a nice end zone interception on a highly questionable Bart Houston pass early in the second quarter. Tre’Davious White almost won the game single-handedly, returning another Houston interception for a touchdown to get the Tigers going, then recovering a fumble just a couple plays later to set up the offense’s lone scoring drive.
Arden Key also lived up to his own hype, twice sacking Houston.
But the Badgers were able to continuously exploit the LSU defense with passes to tight end Troy Fumagalli, who moved the chains with 7 catches for 100 yards. It would take a review of the tape to determine how many of those gains were a result of execution and how many were exploitations of poor positioning.
Special Teams (F+)
Earlier this week, Les Miles proclaimed he is only interested in recruiting punters who speak Australian, and after Josh Growden’s debut, he may want to keep the word “bodgy” in mind when communicating with his punter.
Bodgy, it seems, is an Australian term meaning “poor quality,” and that’s what Growden delivered on Saturday. His seven punts were for a measly 32.4 yard average, including three shanks of 31 yards or less.
He does deserve credit for his one good punt, a 30-yarder downed at the 4 that helped set up White’s short pick-6. But other than that, LSU’s special teams were a nonentity, save for the time Cameron Gamble kicked the ball out of bounds after LSU’s first touchdown.
How do you burn two timeouts in the third quarter of a game you trail by two touchdowns? Miles blamed it on first-game communication issues, which are an inevitable part of every season, but they sure came at a bad time.
Cam Cameron’s play-calling on offense was bland and unimaginative. Three straight Harris incompletions on LSU’s second possession caused some head-scratching, as did a fourth-and-1 pitch to Fournette from LSU’s 45 in the second quarter. And then there was the whole peculiar scenario at the end of the first half when LSU bizarrely tried to push the ball downfield rather than run out the clock.
In every category, Wisconsin was the better prepared team Saturday — which is troubling when LSU had a coach on staff in Dave Aranda who knew exactly what the Badgers would be doing.
There’s no question LSU has a vastly improved defense from a year ago, and that is a bright spot that should not be ignored. It’s also the only thing saving this from being an F-grade performance.
Overall, this may go down as the worst performance by LSU since its 21-0 spanking by Alabama in the 2011 BCS Championship Game. Unlike then, at least the Tigers have a full season left to rectify the problem.
Or maybe that’s a bad thing.