D'Amato: Badgers revel in victory
Green Bay – Like blood-red salmon swimming upstream, they leaped into the arms of delirious Wisconsin fans in the southwest corner of Lambeau Field.
The Badgers couldn’t jump into the stands during the game Saturday – college rules and all – but nothing could stop them from celebrating when it was over.
So they went Lambeau Leaping by the dozen, all of them slapped on the back and pounded on the shoulder pads, some of them taking selfies. Cornerback Caesar Williams sat on the stadium wall for four or five minutes, basking in glory, in no hurry to come back down to turf.
“It was electric, man,” linebacker Vince Biegel said of the scene. “It was everything I thought it would be, and more.”
It was a joyful conclusion to Wisconsin’s 16-14 victory over fifth-ranked Louisiana State in a scintillating season opener. Billed audaciously as the “Lambeau Field College Classic,” the game lived up to the considerable hype.
Some 25,000 LSU fans had invaded Wisconsin late in the week, hanging out in Milwaukee and Green Bay, hoisting beers with Badgers and Packers fans, arriving early at Lambeau on Saturday to take in – and add to – the game-day atmosphere. All of them, and perhaps a good percentage of Badgers fans, expected the Tigers to win.
But make no mistake about it: the double-digit underdog was the better team, even if it had to overcome a few self-inflicted wounds that might have crushed a less resilient bunch. Up 13-0 one minute and down 14-13 the next, the Badgers found a way to beat a team that had designs on the national championship.
The loss was so devastating to LSU that coach Les Miles, whose voice was barely audible in his postgame news conference, admitted he didn’t know how he would get his team ready emotionally to play its next game.
“It’s a hurtful feeling,” said Tigers cornerback Tre’Davious White, whose pick-six in the third quarter got LSU on the board and woke up the east side of Lambeau, where purple-clad Tigers fans had been sitting on their hands. “Our goal was to win it all and go undefeated. The guys in the locker room are hurting so bad.”
The guys in the other locker room saw a future brimming with possibility, though plenty of stiff challenges – Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State – remain. This was a signature victory for second-year coach Paul Chryst. It was also the first time Wisconsin beat a non-Big Ten team ranked in the top five since 1974.
“What we do with this, and how we move forward, that will define us as a team,” Chryst said.
Wisconsin dominated much of the game, controlling the ball for 21 minutes 52 seconds in the first half and making LSU’s all-everything junior running back Leonard Fournette look like Leonard Bernstein. Fournette finished with 138 rushing yards and caught three passes for 38 more, but he was rendered nearly invisible for the first 2½ quarters by a swarming Wisconsin defense.
The truth is, the Badgers grew tired of hearing Fournette’s name in the days leading up to the game and wanted to show they were more than just a creation of coordinator Dave Aranda, now directing LSU’s defense.
It’s Justin Wilcox’s defense now, and it’s a good one.
“We’ve got a lot of guys returning on our defense and we’ve got guys who’ve played in a lot of ballgames,” Biegel said. “We’re confident in what we can do.”
The Badgers had to overcome a red-zone interception by quarterback Bart Houston in the second quarter, then White’s pick-six and a fumble three plays later by wide receiver George Rushing, after which LSU scored to take a 14-13 lead.
“Obviously, a couple plays that we’ve got to learn from and you’d like not to do,” Chryst said. “But I thought (Houston) kept his poise and did some good things.”
Houston owned up to his mistakes but noted that the goal was to score at least one more point than the other team. He led a fourth-quarter drive that resulted in Rafael Gaglianone's
So what did we learn about the 2016 Badgers?
“There were a lot of questions thrown out about this team,” Chryst said. “We’ve only played one game. We didn’t answer them all.”
They answered one. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a Miles.