Sept. 1, 2014BY MIKE LUCAS
-- Wisconsin linebacker Marcus Trotter
left NRG Stadium with a refocused energy.
“Maybe it’s the beauty in disguise,” he said knowing everyone was still in an ugly mood.
This was shortly after the Badgers had squandered a 17-point second half lead against LSU.
And there was no sugar coating Saturday night's 28-24 loss in the Advocare Texas Kickoff.
“We didn’t get it done today,” said tailback Melvin Gordon.
“We didn’t execute the way we wanted to,” said linebacker Derek Landisch.
“The scoreboard shows what happens when you don’t execute,” said center Dan Voltz.
“We had breakdowns with communications that ended up costing us,” said tackle Tyler Marz.
“The only reason we lost the game was mistakes on our part,” said linebacker Joe Schobert.
“Any loss is going to be frustrating, but this one stings a lot,” said tackle Rob Havenstein.
Yet they left Houston knowing there’s so much more left to cultivate with this team and season.
“We’ve got the talent,” said Gordon, who rushed 16 times for 140 yards (8.8) and a touchdown. “ A lot of people don’t believe we can be a great team but I still feel that we can.”
Reflecting on how the UW narrative changed from one half to the other, Gordon said, “We had our ups, we had our downs. But I liked our ups and I think we can build on that.”
He was not alone thinking that way, especially after an impressive first half showing during which the Badgers shut down LSU’s vaunted rushing attack by limiting the Tigers to just 16 yards on 15 carries.
UW safety Michael Caputo had five tackles in the first quarter alone. He finished with 15.
“We can hang with anybody,” said Schobert, who had eight tackles, two TFLs, a quarterback sack and a forced fumble. “They didn’t win the game because they were that much better than us.
“We had that game in hand but we made mistakes. We will learn from it. And the biggest thing we learned is that we can be a really good team – like we were in that first half.”
Through three quarters, the Badgers had 253 rushing yards, the Tigers had 49.
“We did a lot of good things. LSU is a good team,” Marz said. “We can fix the mistakes that we made. There are some obvious ones out there.”
The UW offense converted on just 4-of-15 third downs and managed just 50 passing yards.
Quarterback Tanner McEvoy admitted that he missed open receivers in his first career start.
Havenstein, a senior leader, emphasized that it was a shared responsibility.
“Collectively, as an offense, we just didn’t get the job done,” said Havenstein. “It starts upfront with us. You can put that game squarely on my shoulders and on the offensive line’s shoulders.”
Gordon, a junior leader, had a similar takeaway.
“When you get the opportunities we had, we have to make the best of them and we didn’t,” he said. “I put that on me, I put that on us as an offense. Our goal is to score every drive.”
After Gordon opened up the second half with a 63-yard run and the Badgers increased their lead to 24-7 on a Corey Clement touchdown, the Badgers had all the momentum. Just not for long.
After Marcus Trotter and Joe Ferguson combined to throw LSU tailback Kenny Hilliard for a one yard loss, the Tigers were forced to punt from their own 43-yard line on fourth-down-and 4.
LSU head coach Les Miles conceded afterward that he had the wrong personnel on the field for a fake punt but he called the play anyway and the Tigers pulled it off.
The ball was snapped to an up-back, Kendell Beckwith, who faked a lateral to the punter Jamie Keehn and ran five yards to pick up the first down. Beckwith, a linebacker, is a former prep quarterback.
The Tigers culminated the possession with a field goal.
After a 3-and-out and shanked punt by Wisconsin, they got another field goal.
After another 3-and-out and another shanked punt by Wisconsin, they got a touchdown.
After an interception, they got another touchdown and the lead was theirs for good.
“The biggest thing is being strong mentally when a team is coming back on you,” Marcus Trotter said. “You can’t hang your head. You have to have that faith that you can pull through.
“But we’ve got a young team and we have to kind of instill that in the guys. It’s a first game.”
Could Trotter feel the momentum swinging late in the third quarter and early in the fourth?
“Definitely,” he said. “It felt like a home game for LSU and you can definitely feel it. And when you start feeling it, that’s when you want to step up and start encouraging everybody.
“That’s what we tried to do – me and Landisch and the older guys.”
Asked specifically about the fake punt, Landisch said, “That was definitely a momentum changing play. But I wouldn’t say that was the defining moment in the game.”
After all, even after the successful fake, and LSU field goal, the Badgers still led 24-10.
“Football is a game of momentum,” Landisch said. “You have to stay ‘Steady Eddie.’ We talk about that all the time; not too high, not too low. Focus on your assignments and execute.”
That’s a lot easier when the defense is at full-strength. The Badgers were not on the D-line after losing Konrad Zagzebski in the first half and Warren Herring in the second. Both are fifth-year seniors.
“They’re the keystones on the D-line,” Schobert said.
“They’re such great components to this defense,” Trotter said.
“But we don’t want to use that as an excuse,” Landisch stressed.
Nobody did, and the defense got inspired efforts from everyone along the defensive line.
“The way we prepare,” Landisch said, “guys get reps throughout the week; second and third stringers. So you should be expecting to play because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Certainly everyone sounded encouraged by the play of starting nose guard Arthur Goldberg, a redshirt sophomore from Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Goldberg had five tackles.
“He did great,” said Schobert. “I didn’t see him breathing heavy or slowing down in the trenches and he was going against those guards and center. He was doing some good things in there.”
“I was very proud of how Arthur played,” Landisch said. “He didn’t care how long he was on the field and that’s how you have to play. Football is a game of adversity and he handled himself very well.”
When Trotter suggested that there was “beauty in disguise” to come out of the loss, he was referring to the emergence of younger players like Goldberg after the Zagzebski and Herring injuries.
He was also referring to what the Badgers learned about themselves in Houston.
“I think we proved to the nation that we can hang with teams like this (LSU),” Trotter said. “But now it’s time to execute consistently for four quarters.”
Added Landisch, “There are a lot of young guys on this team but that also falls back on the leaders, such as myself, getting everyone to finish, including myself.
“We need to finish games,” Landisch went on. “I know that it has been a problem for us in the past. But we’re definitely going to work on fixing that.”