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Nussmeier shines as Daniels' successor, No. 13 LSU rallies to nip Wisconsin 35-31 in ReliaQuest Bowl

Football player in purple and gold throws the ball as a player in red and white tries to tackle him.
Chris O'Meara/AP
LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier (13) throws a pass as he is pressured by Wisconsin linebacker Darryl Peterson during the first half of the ReliaQuest Bowl NCAA college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Tampa, Fla.

The Tigers rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to overshadow a stellar performance by Wisconsin's Tanner Mordecai, who threw for a season-high 378 yards and three TDs for the Badgers.

Garrett Nussmeier threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns, helping 13th-ranked LSU launch its post-Jayden Daniels era with a come-from-behind 35-31 victory over Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Monday.

Stepping in to make his first college start after Daniels — the 2023 Heisman Trophy winner — opted out to begin preparing for the NFL draft, Nussmeier completed 31 of 45 passes. He tossed TD passes of 14 yards to Chris Hilton Jr. and 38 and 4 yards to Brian Thomas Jr., whose second touchdown put LSU ahead with 3:08 remaining.

Nussmeier rallied the Tigers (10-3) from a 14-point second-half deficit to overshadow a stellar performance by Wisconsin's Tanner Mordecai, who threw for a season-high 378 yards and three TDs for the Badgers (7-6), who played without star running back Braelon Allen.

Nussmeier, who turns 22 in February, had appeared in 17 games over three years at LSU, including five this season while Daniels was compiling dazzling statistics — 3,812 yards and 40 TDs passing, 1,134 yards and 10 TDs rushing — on the way to winning the Heisman.

The Tigers started slowly — trailing 14-0 after one quarter, 21-14 at halftime and 31-28 heading into the fourth quarter.

Nussmeier set up the winning touchdown with completions of 37 yards to Kyren Lacy and 43 yards to Hilton. Thomas finished with eight catches for 98 yards, while Lacy had six receptions for 97 yards for the Tigers.

Mordecai, a sixth-year senior playing his final college game, finished 27 of 40 passes without an interception for the Badgers, who rolled up more than 500 yards of total offense despite playing without Allen, who opted out of the bowl game because he's declaring for the NFL.

Mordecai threw for 7,152 yards and 72 touchdowns in two seasons at SMU before transferring to Wisconsin, where his arrival — along with the addition of multiple transfer receiver and Air Raid disciple Phil Longo as offensive coordinator — created expectations that the Badgers were on the verge of abandoning their traditional staid run-oriented offense and would throw the ball more.

But Mordecai, who missed three games with a broken throwing hand, threw for just six touchdowns during the regular season.


Wisconsin: Mordecai had the first 300-yard game by a Badgers quarterback since September 2019, offering a glimpse of the direction the offense is headed next season when Tyler Van Dyke, who is transferring from Miami, is expected to open as the starting quarterback.

LSU: The Tigers are confident Nussmeier has everything it takes, including a strong returning supporting cast, to be successful in 2024. LSU led the nation in total offense (547.8 yards per game) and scoring (46.4). One of coach Brian Kelly's priorities will be improving a defense that allowed 409.2 yards and 27.75 yards per game.


Wisconsin: The Badgers open next season against Western Michigan and South Dakota before hosting Alabama on Sept. 14.

LSU: The Tigers begin the 2024 schedule against Southern California in the Vegas Kickoff Classic on Sept. 1.