Football Rallies Behind Nussmeier to Beat Wisconsin in ReliaQuest Bowl
TAMPA, Fla. – Backed into their own end zone, redshirt sophomore quarterback Garrett Nussmeier and the LSU offense orchestrated an eight-play, 98-yard drive to beat Wisconsin, 35-31, in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Monday.
The game-winning drive was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown reception from Nussmeier to Brian Thomas Jr. with 3:08 to play.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) January 4, 2024
The Tigers would force a turnover on downs, thanks to a sack from Greg Penn III, with 31 seconds left to put the game on ice, securing back-to-back 10-win seasons in Head Coach Brian Kelly’s first two seasons.
“I think it really stabilizes the program,” Kelly said postgame. “For us, it’s been recruiting, development and retention. You can’t do that when you’re 3-9. When you have back-to-back 10 win seasons, and you’re doing it with bowl victories as well, it certainly helps a lot.”
Saturday marked LSU’s largest bowl comeback (14 points) in program history. The previous margin was 13 points (1968 Sugar Bowl (1/1/1968), LSU trailed Wyoming 13-0 and won, 20-13 & 1968 Peach Bowl (12/30/1968), LSU trailed Florida St. 13-0 and won, 31-27).
Nussmeier, making his first career start, might have given Tiger fans a taste of the future, finishing 31-of-45 for 395 yards passing with three touchdowns and an interception. With the game on the line, and lots of green grass ahead of him, the Lake Charles native rose to the occasion.
“His ability to manage the moment, be calm in those situations, speaks to a guy that is going to only excel and get better as he plays more football,” said Kelly of Nussmeier.
Malik Nabers cemented his legacy among the all-time greats, setting the program record for receiving yards after reeling in an 11-yard pass in the first quarter. That catch put him at 3,004 career yards, which broke the previous record of 3,001 set by Josh Reed from 1999-2001. Nabers would only play one half, finishing with three catches for 23 yards.
Thomas Jr. led the team with eight catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 12.3 yards per touch.
LSU’s defense made key stops when needed in the second half. Veteran safety Major Burns led the unit with a team-high 13 tackles, while freshman Whit Weeks finished with eight and Andre Sam and Penn each recorded seven a piece. Mekhi Wingo was disruptive and played one of his best games, finishing with three tackles and two sacks.
Linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. made his impact felt on both sides of the ball, scoring the Tigers’ first offensive touchdown of 2024, punching a 1-yard rush into the end zone in the first quarter, while also tallying four tackles and a QB hurry defensively.
Coach Kelly has said it before: in order to be elite, you have to be consistent. Back-to-back 10 win seasons moves the Tigers in the right direction towards competing for championships.
“A team that’s won 20 games over the last two years,” Kelly said. “Has a good foundational base of what LSU Football expectations are. This is a team that, year in and year our, should be competing for championships.”
LSU returns to action on Sunday, Sept. 1 for the Vegas Kickoff Classic at Allegiant Stadium against Southern California.