Nobody really labeled this as a season-defining game for Wisconsin. Then again, nobody outside of Madison gave the Badgers a fighting chance to beat fifth-ranked LSU.
Even in their home state, the Badgers were an 11-point underdog to the Bayou Bengals. They were supposed to put up a fight, but eventually succumb to a stout defensive front, a sturdy offensive line and, of course, the elusive Leonard Fournette.
Wisconsin never rolled over. Instead, they took the fight to one of the SEC’s top powers and escaped Lambeau Field with a win.
Now, with the game over, the celebrations beginning in Green Bay and bar tabs skyrocketing in Madison, this feels like it could be a season-defining game for Paul Chryst and his team. The Badgers are on the other end of the spectrum, exuberant after a win rather than distraught after a loss.
Momentum is on their side. Something they desperately needed before diving even deeper into one of the nation’s most difficult schedules. Yeah, Saturday was a big one for the Badgers.
It was a big one for Bart Houston, who was starting in his first game since high school.
He didn’t play particularly well, going just 19-for-31 for 205 yards while throwing two interceptions without a touchdown. But a couple of picks are easier live with when your team wins the game.
It was important for Corey Clement, the only Badger to score a touchdown. His 86 yards against an SEC defense is further proof that he can be the effective ball carrier we saw in 2014 when he was backing up Melvin Gordon III.
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 3, 2016
It was exciting for Rafael Gaglianone, who kicked the go-ahead field goal with 4:13 left in the game.
The Groza Award watch list nominee knocked three field goals through the uprights, including 47-yard and 48-yard boots.
It was crucial for the defense. The unit that Dave Aranda abandoned for LSU after last season was dominant in nearly every aspect.
The Badgers defense held LSU to just seven points offensively, forced three turnovers and made life miserable for quarterback Brandon Harris. Wisconsin wasn’t completely able to shut down Fournette, who had 138 yards on 23 carries for a 6 yards per carry average, but it did keep him out of the end zone and didn’t allow many big plays.
Most importantly, though, Saturday’s victory was significant for Wisconsin’s confidence. For the second time in two meetings against LSU, the Badgers tried to squander a double-digit lead in the second half.
If you closed your eyes, you momentarily flashed back to 2014. Then, in Houston, the Tigers overcame a double-figure deficit to start the year 1-0. That nearly happened again.
After taking a 13-0 lead on Clement’s short touchdown run, Houston threw a pass into the hands of LSU’s Tre’Davious White, who took it to the end zone to cut the lead in half. Three plays later, George Rushing fumbled after catching a pass from Houston to give the Tigers the ball on the Wisconsin 41-yard-line.
Brandon Harris found Travin Dural two plays later to give LSU the 14-13 edge.
This is when the Badgers were expected to roll over.
Wisconsin didn’t, though. The strong defense and an offense just good enough to get Gaglianone into field goal range helped the Badgers regain the lead and avoid letting this one slip through their fingers. D’Cota Dixon’s interception with less than a minute left solidified the win.
You loved it live.
So, you'll enjoy an encore of the @BadgerFootball win.
BTN will re-air it at noon ET Sunday. https://t.co/FjMXuTc5dx
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) September 3, 2016
And it solidified that Wisconsin is still a threat in the West. Often disregarded throughout the season because of its tough schedule which includes cross-division games against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, The Badgers proved they can play with anyone.
This wasn’t supposed to be a season-defining game. By the time season concludes, maybe it won’t be. The Badgers still have a tough road ahead, but it seems more manageable after Saturday.
Wisconsin wasn’t given a chance against LSU and found a way to win. It hasn’t been given much of a chance to win the B1G, either.
That might be the next goal for the Badgers to conquer.