LSU Stays the Course to Top Wisconsin

Ken Cross

January 03, 2024 at 5:01 pm.

TAMPA, Fla. – LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier, standing in for Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, found Brian Thomas, Jr., with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 3:08 remaining as the Tigers topped the Wisconsin Badgers, 35-31, in the Reliaquest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Monday afternoon. 

“Our team was down at half,” said LSU head coach Brian Kelly. “You could tell that it was one of the lowest points all season. I could sense that. We had to take it as a learning moment and what kind of adversity we were under.” 

The Bayou Bengals trailed throughout the game until Nussmeier tossed his third touchdown pass of the afternoon which was a key in being named the ReliaQuest Bowl MVP. 

Nussmeier completed 31 of 45 passes for 395 yards as he keyed touchdown drives on three of the Tigers’ five possessions in the second half. 

“I think once he got a good sense of what was going on out there, the speed of the game,” explained Kelly. “You saw him later in the game make some really good checks. He changed protections. It just took some time for him to get there.” 

Wisconsin built a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter when quarterback Tanner Mordecai found Will Pauling on a 53-yard scoring pass late in the first quarter. They extended it to 14 points again on a 33-yard touchdown run by Jackson Acker early in the third quarter. 

At that point, Nussmeier picked up the Tigers’ offense and slowly, but surely, allowed LSU to take over the game. He hit Thomas with the first touchdown connection on a 38-yard toss with 10:33 remaining in the third quarter as they cut the score to 28-21. 

On the next drive, Nussmeier drove LSU 70 yards on eight plays as Chris Hilton, Jr., caught a 14-yard TD pass to tie the game at 28-28. 

“It was interesting because you have different guys in there,” explained Nussmeier. “It’s a different group. Me and Jayden (Williams) are still very different. We’re trying to gel, trying to mesh, trying to get it right. I think once it clicked, it clicked; we were rolling.” 

Kelly was pleased with how Nussmeier settled into the game and was able to bring the Tigers from behind.

“His ability to manage the moment, his ability to be calm in those situations, speaks of a guy that is going to only excel and get better as he plays more football,” Kelly said. 

Both teams combined for the bowl record of 773 passing yards as Mordecai threw for 378 yards with Nussmeier’s 395. 

More impressively, was LSU wide receiver Malik Nabors, who had just three catches for 23 yards, but he broke the LSU record for receiving yards in a career. Nabers finished with 3,003 receiving yards in his four seasons as an LSU receiver. 

“When Malik first came in, he was kind of overlooked,” said Nussmeier. “People didn’t really expect that of him. We all knew it. We all knew he was special.”

As the clock ran down, it gave Kelly his second consecutive 10-win season in his first two years as the LSU head coach.

“For us, it’s been recruiting, development and retention,” said Kelly. “You do that, but you can’t do it when you’re effectively say, 3-9, 4-8.”