GREEN BAY, Wis. — They are who LSU players thought they were.
The Tigers could borrow a phrase from Dennis Green, the recently deceased former NFL coach, to describe their season-opening, 16-14 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
“Everything we prepared for, they did,” cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “All of the film studies we did … they didn’t do anything that we didn’t see.”
New coordinator Dave Aranda provided his LSU defenders with an inside scouting report on the Badgers offense, the same unit Aranda saw in practice for the past three seasons. He spent 2013-15 as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator.
Despite that advantage, LSU’s defense gave up 180 yards in the first half and, if not for two turnovers, could have allowed as many as four scores. On 12 fist-half plays, Wisconsin gained at least 10 yards passing or 5 yards rushing.
“We just didn’t make the plays we needed,” said White, who pointed to the Badgers' third-down conversions (3-of-9 in the first half).
The Tigers relied on several new faces on the front seven, including freshmen Michael Divinity and Rashard Lawrence and first-year nose tackle Travonte Valentine.
“That was about what I was expecting — nothing surprising or anything extravagant,” defensive end Lewis Neal said. “It was what we were expecting. We expected everything they did. We just have to execute and come out with the win.”
LSU’s defensive front was gashed at times, and its offense stumbled to just 257 yards. Overshadowed in all of this is another negative in the Tigers’ season-opening loss: the punting.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Confident thoughts ran through Lewis Neal’s mind.
Josh Growden, a redshirt freshman punting for the first time, averaged just 32.6 yards Saturday. That would have ranked him well outside of the nation's top 100 last season. The 100th-best average in 2015 was 38.7.
Growden, the Tigers’ third straight Australia-born starting punter, booted two of seven punts under 30 yards (23 and 25), and another two didn’t crack the 32-yard mark. He booted back-to-back punts of 25 and then 30 yards in the third quarter. The 25-yarder gave the Badgers field position at their 42. Wisconsin scored its only touchdowns five plays later.
Growden’s woes were not the only special teams issues. Cameron Gamble, who battled a back injury during preseason camp, averaged 61 yards on three kickoffs, and he kicked one out of bounds in the second half. His 61-yard average would have ranked 93rd last season.
Freshman kicker Connor Culp did not play Saturday, despite coach Les Miles lauding the rookie throughout preseason camp.
Boutte: ‘He’s not malicious’
The Southeastern Conference office has not announced a suspension for LSU offensive lineman Josh Boutte’s post-play actions Saturday late in the loss, but Miles said he “can’t imagine” Boutte doing such a thing on purpose.
“He’s not a malicious guy,” the coach said.
Boutte, a 340-pound senior, launched a forearm into the facemask of Wisconsin defensive back D’Cota Dixon, who's listed at 203 pounds. Dixon collapsed to the turf, and an assistant coach yanked Boutte off the field before Miles chided him on the sideline.
He was ejected from the game. The SEC will review the play for a possible suspension, said Herb Vincent, an SEC administrator at the game. That is most likely to come Monday or Tuesday.
Dixon secured the win for the Badgers with his interception of quarterback Brandon Harris in the final minute. He was tackled and then popped off the turf — eventually into Boutte’s clothesline. The LSU player told Miles he thought Dixon had not been tackled.
“It’s very logical he didn’t know the guy went down and was just running, OK? He just came up on a guy who he thought was just returning the ball and made the tackle,” Miles said. “That’s what he said.”
Replays showed Boutte had his face pointed toward Dixon immediately after the interception.
LSU sophomore Arden Key is 18 sacks away from his season-long goal. Key, the starter in the buck outside linebacker/defensive end role, set a lofty sacks goal for the 2016 season: 20. He sacked Wisconsin's Bart Houston twice Saturday and got pressure for much of the game. … LSU-Wisconsin was ESPN's most streamed Saturday kickoff week game ever, the network announced. … The Associated Press and coaches polls are released Tuesday this week.