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On the Road: Watching a Gut-Punching Badgers Loss to LSU in Houston

Melvin Gordon second half run against LSU

My life was so good when, on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Melvin Gordon banged out a 63-yard run to the LSU 12. Though, in hindsight, it was precarious that Gordon got caught from behind, Wisconsin punched it in five plays later to take a 24-7 lead that felt insurmountable. Outnumbered 3-to-1 in the crowd, and thought to be able to win the game by nobody (other than Stone Cold Steve Austin), the Badgers were stomping LSU in every facet of the game. We were going to prance around Houston like kings.

“Barring an LSU defense or special teams touchdown, we’re for sure going to win,” I told my buddy Matt. I was wrong. Boy was I wrong.

The rest of the second half would be a source of misery and bafflement. LSU came roaring back, and Melvin Gordon inexplicably only got three more touches after his long run. When a running back carries the ball 13 times for 139 yards by early in the third quarter, he typically figures prominently in the subsequent game-plan, especially when there’s no passing game to speak of. And, yeah, life was hell after that.

I try SO hard to not let the Badgers bother me when they lose, because they are college students and their games should just be fun for me, but sometimes they fall in such a soul-crushing manner that any vows I make to myself to keep everything in perspective will fall by the wayside. (As Ty Duffy noted earlier, they’ve lost 15 one-score games since 2010.)

Watching your team on the road — and, though this was technically a neutral site match-up, it sure felt like an away game — is the ultimate risk/reward venture. Winning, and thus feeling exultant amidst a torrent of angst that accompanies losing in football, is among the greatest feelings in the world. Losing in the way that it all went down, and exiting the stadium surrounded by a sea of purple and gold, with no idea how we were getting back to our hotel (a problem that would eventually be solved by hitchhiking in the back of a pick-up truck), was no bueno.

I won’t say that was the worst Badger football loss I’ve ever experienced. I sat in the Michigan State and Ohio State student sections for last minute hail mary losses in back-to-back weeks in 2011, and those definitely sucked more. But, yielding a 17-point lead to an SEC opponent when Wisconsin should be favored every week between now and the Big Ten championship game, and knowing that an appearance in the CFB Final Four is next to impossible before it’s even Labor Day, really toyed with my emotions.

These are my ancillary thoughts on the game, and the rest of the weekend:

THE MELVIN GORDON THING

So, Gary Andersen didn’t exactly adequately explain Gordon’s lack of second-half carries in the post-game. Gordon said he was fine, a stance the running back reiterated on Monday: “I put it on me … Maybe I should have really let them know, let coach A know and stepped up and told them, ‘Look, I need to be in there.’ I kind of just sat back, and I put that on myself. I wasn’t really forceful with it. I really wasn’t demanding with it, and I probably should have been.”

Wisconsin v LSU

“The scenario was real simple at halftime,” Andersen said Monday. “Melvin had a little bit of a hip flexor. Anybody that knows Melvin could see that on the long run that he broke out in the second half there. It was very obvious that he had pulled up there at the end of that run.”

And … well, if that’s the truth — and not a cover-up for schematic deficiencies (and Gordon did acknowledge on Monday that he got banged up before halftime) — then I can see Andersen’s point.

As much as I wanted to beat LSU on Saturday, and as much as I think pounding the rock with Gordon would have contributed to that goal more than everything else the team was doing, it would be unethical to run Gordon into the ground when he’s playing for free in a season that everyone knows is an NFL tryout. Nobody wants to see a Marcus Lattimore or Willis McGahee situation. (Though, looking at the long Gordon run again and again, I’m not so sure he pulled up so much as took a sub-optimal angle.)

Nevertheless, it was a brutal way to start the season.

AT LEAST WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE THIS.

Wisconsin kicker dance

ASTROS GAME

IMG_4636My friends and I went to Rangers-Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday night. The stadium itself is pretty similar to Miller Park in Milwaukee, except for the fact that there’s a hill in centerfield and no slide for the mascot to scoot down when the team hits home runs.

Speaking of home runs, my friend Craig (pictured to the right) got tossed that baseball by the ball boy after Rangers outfielder Michael Choice socked a three-run dinger in the fourth inning.

Instead of doing the honorable thing and giving the ball to a child sitting nearby, Craig refused to let go of his souvenir, arguing that he’s been going to baseball games since he was a young child, and that no decent adult had ever given him a ball.

We chided Craig for being a horrible human being, and joked that the kids around us would forever remember the night where baseball was ruined for them, irrevocably setting them on the path to becoming MMA fans who wear Affliction shirts and have neck tattoos. We got the whole section to boo, and it was a lot more entertaining for all of us than the baseball game had been up to that point.

THE TAILGATE

A few friends set up a tent in the premium lot across the street from NRG Stadium, and grilled burgers, brats, and hot dogs. Though, as I previously mentioned, the crowd was about 3/4’s LSU, there was a strong Badger contingent in our little corner, including a group of people next to us that had stolen a cardboard cutout of The Most Interesting Man in the World from a bar, and decked him in Wisconsin gear. Towards the end, I tiptoed over to an LSU tent and successfully begged for a plate of jambalaya.

BBQ

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No trip to Texas would be complete without stuffing one’s face with BBQ, and Gatlin’s provided just that opportunity. With a group of eight, we got two pounds of beef brisket, 1.5 pounds of pulled pork, .5 pounds each of three different types of sausage, pinto beans, dirty rice, and potato salad. Jusssssst after we ordered, the restaurant informed everybody they were out of food. Thankfully, we’d gotten in just in time.

Everything was exquisite; most differentiable, to me, were the sauce, which was warm and tangy, and the potato salad — I had not previously known that potato salad was capable of being incredible. After we ate, I curled up in my hotel bed in the best kind of food coma, where you have to lie on your side because you’re so full.

10649901_10103465273201607_92623550032376636_nI also made it to John Mueller Meat Co. in Austin, where my two friends and I ordered brisket, pork shoulder, jalapeño beef sausage, ribs, and cheesy squash. Oh my God, those ribs. They were coated in a rub that might as well have been candy, and just typing that made me want them again. Badly.

Both Gatlin’s and Mueller’s looked exactly as BBQ joints should, though with different aesthetics. Gatlin’s is a small shack with just three little tables inside and a few picnic tables outside. It did have a roof over its head, though. Mueller’s, on the other hand, consists of one trailer housing the smoker, another with the counter and cash register, and picnic tables covered by just a tarp.

So, despite the crushing Badgers loss, it was a great long weekend in Texas. I’ll remember the good times much more than the frustrations when it comes time to book next year’s trip for Wisconsin-Alabama in Dallas.

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