ReliaQuest Bowl – LSU 35, Wisconsin 31: 2-minute drill

TAMPA — No. 13 LSU (10-3) rallied from two double-digit deficits to stun Wisconsin (7-6) 35-31 in the ReliaQuest Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Game Balls


Tanner Mordecai

It came in a losing effort but Mordecai put together his best performance in a Wisconsin uniform. He threw for 378 yards — the fifth-most by a Badgers quarterback in a single game and second-most in a bowl game — while tossing three touchdowns. The sixth-year senior was especially good throwing the ball down the field, hitting on eight plays of 20 or more yards, including on a pretty 36-yard dime to Bryson Green in the third quarter.

Will Pauling

Wisconsin’s leading receiver, like Mordecai, saved his best for his last effort of the year. Pauling had three catches for 106 yards in the first quarter and a 53-yard touchdown. He would add five more catches and finish with 143 yards and another score. His yards were the third-most by a Badgers receiver in a bowl game. For the year, Pauling had a team-high 74 grabs for 837 yards and six touchdowns.


Hunter Wohler

It was a long day for the Wisconsin defense against some of the best skill players they’ve seen this year, but Wohler stood out a couple times, including on a big tackle for loss off the edge where he destroyed the running back. He also got his hands on a pair of passes and ended up with seven tackles.

What Went Right

The start

For just the second time all year the Badgers scored a touchdown on their opening drive. And they did it nearly all through the air, with Mordecai hitting on passes of 12 and 41 to Pauling and then giving Bryson Green a chance on a 50-50 ball that he pulled in for a score. After a three-and-out on its next possession, Wisconsin took just two plays to score with Mordecai finding Pauling again. The Badgers defense was also locked in early, forcing three punts and a turnover on downs on LSU’s first four possessions.

What Went Wrong

No pass rush

There were some flashes in the run game, but the Badgers front seven was nearly non-existent in getting after LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier. He played nearly the entire day with a clean pocket, allowing him to pick Wisconsin apart to the tune of 395 yards and three touchdowns. Some of it was the Tigers using max protection but any chances the Badgers had to win 1-on-1s didn’t go their way, as they failed to record a sack for just the second time this season and had only three quarterback hurries.

No killer instinct

The message since Luke Fickell arrived in Madison was about finishing games. It’s something the Badgers were not good at in 2022 and that continued this year despite a heavy emphasis on it last offseason. The lack of finishing popped up again Monday with Wisconsin having multiple chances to close the game out on both sides of the ball. Twice the Badgers took 14-point leads — 14-0 and 28-14 — only to watch LSU roar back. Later, presented with a chance to close the game out in the final minutes, the defense saw the Tigers go 98 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and then the offense stalled out in its attempt to answer on the other end. Wisconsin ended up 2-5 in games decided in the fourth quarter.

Too cautious

The Badgers knew field goals weren’t going to win this game and yet Fickell twice settled for kicking instead of putting the ball in the hands of his senior quarterback. The first decision resulted in a missed 51-yard field goal on fourth-and-4, while the second came inside the LSU 5-yard line when Fickell passed up going for it and kicking a 21-yard field goal. The one time the Badgers did go for it, they got stuffed on fourth-and-1 with a run up the middle. Still, you can’t say field goals aren’t going to win a game and then decide to consistently kick in those situations.

What They Said

Luke Fickell on quarterback Tanner Mordecai

“There was never hesitation as to whether he was going to play in this game or not. For him to go out and not just play the way he did, but practice the way he did, lead the way that he did to help us move our program forward and kind of set an example of what things can look like when you really dive all in. For a guy that did that in one year, I’d like to bottle that thing up, mold it, and that it is the way to go about your business.”

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin was a 10-point underdog. It was just the second time in its 35-game bowl history the Badgers were a double-digit underdogs. The other time came in the 2006 Capital One Bowl against Auburn.

— A number of future Badgers were at the game and on the sideline, including Miami transfer quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and incoming freshman QB Mabrey Metteaur.

— LSU was without Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jayden Daniels, as he opted out to get ready for the NFL Draft. However, he was on the sideline and served as one of the team’s captains at the coin toss.

— Wisconsin lost a pair of starters on offense due to injury. Running back Cade Yacamelli went down early in the third quarter with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Later in the quarter, left tackle Jack Nelson was lost with a leg injury.

— With Nelson’s injury, fans got their first look at Nolan Rucci taking meaningful snaps.

— Wisconsin struggled to slow the dynamic receiving weapons LSU had in Bryan Thomas Jr. (8 catches, 98 yards, 2 TDs), Kyren Lacy (6 catches, 95 yards) and Chris Hilton Jr. (3 catches, 56 yards, 1 TD). Cornerback Nyzier Fourqurean got the start but was benched late in the first half. Senior Alexander Smith lasted just one play before the Badgers went with freshman Jonas Duclona.

— The announced attendance for the game was 31,424.

Inside the Numbers

3 — That’s how many times Mordecai was sacked in a row on Wisconsin’s final drive of the game as it tried to grab the lead back. After a completion to make it second-and-2 at LSU’s 19-yard line, Mordecai was sacked for losses of 13, 10 and 3 on the next three plays. For the game, the Badgers gave up five sacks. It would have been even more if not for Mordecai’s ability to scramble.

7 — That is how many interceptions Ricardo Hallman finished with on the season after picking off Nussmeier in the first half. It’s tied for the most by a cornerback in school history.

2 — That is how many 100-yard receivers Wisconsin had on the day. In addition to Pauling going for 143, Green had 105 yards. It’s the first time since the 2012 Rose Bowl the Badgers had two 100-yard receivers in a single game.

64 — That’s how many yards receiving Trech Kekahuna had in his first action on offense. He took the spot occupied by Skyler Bell, who is in the transfer portal. His 64 yards is more than Bell had in any game this season.

86 — That’s how many yards rushing Jackson Acker had. It was a career-high and it included a 33-yard touchdown.

506 — That is how many yards Wisconsin had as an offense, its most this season. It’s also the most the Badgers have put up in a loss since gaining 508 yards against Oregon in the 2012 Rose Bowl.

What’s Next

Winter workouts