Dallas Lewallen, Wisconsin’s 320-pound left guard, ran toward Kwon Alexander, LSU’s speedy linebacker.
Lewallen’s block on Alexander, a guy half his size, is critical to the success of the play. A solid block could spring Badgers running back Corey Clement for a 70-plus yard touchdown.
What happens: Alexander side steps Lewallen, races by him and bursts into the backfield, dropping Clement for a 1-yard loss.
LSU smothered Wisconsin’s rushing attack over the final quarter and a half of Saturday’s 28-24 comeback win in Houston, making an adjustment of styles and using a darting weapon: Alexander.
Instead of being bullied out of the way or blocked clear across the field, Alexander became a ball-sniffing headhunter who terrorized Wisconsin’s offense and penetrated its backfield through the final 25 minutes of the game.
The Badgers had 248 yards rushing, averaged 8 yards a pop and had 13 runs of 5 or more yards in the game’s first 33 minutes. They had 20 yards on nine carries in the final 27 minutes, with just two of 5 or more yards.
From his weak-side linebacker spot, Alexander had a quarterback hurry and three tackles for loss or no gain in the second half.
He didn’t single-handedly shut down the Badgers offense.
There were a ton of reasons that led to this incredible line: Wisconsin’s offense ran 19 plays and accumulated 32 yards on its final five drives.
How did this happen (aside from Alexander’s play)?
LSU brought more players closer to the line of scrimmage, crowding the area to stop the run.
“They weren’t passing too often,” linebacker D.J. Welter said, “so that gave us opportunities to put more in the box. We benefited from that, because they are a pretty good run team. That’s their bread and butter.”
Defensive coordinator John Chavis called more run blitzes, too. That’s where a linebacker, like Alexander, races through a gap between defensive linemen to fill a possible destination for a running back.
Defensive backs, meanwhile, continued blanketed coverage, forcing Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy to make perfect throws. LSU also inserted freshman defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. He played about a dozen plays in the fourth quarter.
During the TV broadcast, play-by-play man Sean McDonough said coach Les Miles compared Godchaux to Glenn Dorsey during the ESPN crew meeting with the coach the day before the game. Godchaux might be the reason why Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore didn’t see the field.
LSU’s defensive ends played better, too, and the Tigers used more of their Mustang package. Freshman safety Jamal Adams, junior Jalen Mills and Alexander all had quarterback pressure in the package.
“Coach just came in and made the perfect corrections, and us as a defense without the coach just came together and said, ‘It’s on us,’” said Mills, who’s fourth-quarter interception led to the go-ahead touchdown. “We want to be the best defense in the nation, and we weren’t playing like it, but in the second half, I felt like we did.”
Especially Alexander, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Alabama who flashed skills that ranked as high as the No. 3 linebacker in the nation out of high school.
It didn’t look like it early on. Alexander struggled on several of Wisconsin’s big runs.
On running back Melvin Gordon’s 63-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Alexander chose the wrong hole.
Gordon ran by a blocked Alexander on a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and the linebacker ran wildly into the backfield during the Badgers first score, that 45-yard end-around for a score.
At one point, Alexander’s backup, Deion Jones, played several consecutive series toward the end of the first half.
Alexander came back with vengeance in the second. He picked all of the right holes, zipped into the backfield countless times and laid some crushing hits.
Many may not be surprised by his performance. A few have him as a breakout player in 2014.
“I feel that way,” Alexander said during fall camp. “Just going to have to see when the season starts. It’s all going to come out.”
It took more than two quarters, but it did.