Dec 23, 2023; Las Vagas, NV, USA; Utah Utes linebacker Karene Reid (21) warms up before a game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern edges Utah in Las Vegas Bowl

Ben Bryant passed for 222 yards and two touchdowns and Jaheem Joseph hauled in two interceptions to help Northwestern edge Utah 14-7 on Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Bryant connected with Bryce Kirtz for a go-ahead 19-yard touchdown pass with 6:19 remaining. The Wildcats forced the Utes into a turnover on downs at the Northwestern 38-yard line on the ensuing possession and ran out the clock to seal the victory.

One season after finishing 1-8, the Wildcats completed a remarkable turnaround, finishing 8-5 and capturing the program’s fifth successive bowl victory just a few months removed from a preseason hazing scandal.

The turmoil cost longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald his job, but the Wildcats’ resiliency allowed replacement David Braun to take the reins of the program after starting the fall with the “interim” tag.

The Utes (8-5) have lost five straight bowls, including two against Northwestern. Utah punted seven times, threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and had two turnovers on downs.

Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes was 8-for-13 for 55 yards and threw two interceptions. Ja’Quinden Jackson ran eight times for 55 yards, while Micah Bernard rushed for a 6-yard touchdown to tie the score with 12:38 left.

Northwestern outgained Utah 290-211.

Five of the Utes’ seven first-half possessions resulted in punts, with the other two ending with Barnes throwing an interception. After losing 21 yards on its first two series, Utah appeared to be stringing momentum together on the team’s third drive, marching eight plays and 55 yards before an interception.

Barnes threw another interception to Joseph on the ensuing Utah possession, and Joseph returned the ball 45 yards to the Utah 7. The Utes held strong, however, forcing a turnover on downs when Bryant threw incomplete for Charlie Mangieri on fourth-and-goal from the Utah 1 with 9:13 remaining in the second quarter.

The teams traded punts before the Wildcats secured the game’s first score. A 12-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to Johnson capped an eight-play, 78-yard drive with 1:20 remaining before halftime.

Utah quickly went three and out again, but the Wildcats were unable to capitalize as kicker Jack Olsen missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt as time expired in the second quarter. Olsen missed from 51 yards on Northwestern’s second possession of the game.

–Field Level Media

Nov 11, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) during warmups prior to the game against the Washington Huskies at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Utah meets resilient Northwestern in Las Vegas Bowl

Quarterback Bryson Barnes is set to start for Utah in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl against Northwestern in what the program already knows will be his swan song.

Barnes announced recently he is entering the NCAA transfer portal, joining receiver Mikey Matthews and fellow QB Nate Johnson, among others.

The Utes (8-4) and Wildcats (7-5) figure to look markedly different in this postseason matchup than if they had played at any time before late November. For players, however, it’s all part of the routine.

“It’s been kind of fun, honestly, seeing people (follow) the next-man-up mentality,” Utah tight end Landen King said. “But we’ve been like that the whole season, so it’s nothing different.”

In addition to contending with players in the transfer portal, the Utes have multiple key contributors who stated their intent to enter the NFL Draft, including defensive back Cole Bishop, two-way star Sione Vaki and offensive lineman Keaton Bills.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows his situation is not unique.

“I’m sure every team in the country is having similar issues. … You’re just going to be (in) a different situation for your bowl game,” he said.

Boy, can Northwestern attest.

After losing 17-9 at Nebraska on Oct. 21 to fall to 3-4, the Wildcats closed the regular season with victories in four of their last five games to cap a resilient run to bowl eligibility.

A preseason hazing scandal that led to the firing of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald seemingly left the program in disarray, to say nothing of embarrassed. But Northwestern rallied under coach David Braun, whose resurgence allowed him to shed the “interim” from his title, rolling to a six-win improvement from last season.

That’s the biggest leap among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country.

“A lesser-character team could have packed it up and said, ‘You know what? The season’s not ours.’ They could’ve found all sorts of excuses and explanations for why we’re not going to have the season we want,” Braun said. “That’s what has exceeded my expectations, is the way this group has continued to respond through adversity.”

Transfer quarterback Ben Bryant, who missed four games due to injury, has steered the offense, passing for 1,585 yards and 11 touchdowns against six interceptions.

Braun has lauded the character of Bryant while stressing the importance of valuing and emphasizing relationships with his players throughout the season.

“The thing I’ve learned about myself is I feel like I have a unique ability to laser in on what really matters and what’s important, and focus my decision-making on those things,” he said. “And at the end of the day, that’s our student-athletes. Every decision that I’ve made, I’ve tried to put them at the forefront of my thought process.”

The Wildcats enter on a four-game bowl winning streak, while Utah has lost four straight, including 31-20 to Northwestern in the 2018 Holiday Bowl.

Running the ball and stopping the run have proven keys for the Utes, who have rushed for an average of 199.8 yards per game over the past six contests.

Meanwhile, the Utes rank fourth nationally in rushing defense (84.3 yards per game) and 17th in total defense (308.6).

–Field Level Media

Dec 17, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA;  Florida Gators running back Trevor Etienne (7) runs with the ball through the Oregon State Beavers defense during the first half at the Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Oregon State stifles Florida in Las Vegas Bowl

Ben Gulbranson threw for one touchdown and rushed for another as No. 14 Oregon State defeated Florida 30-3 Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Beavers (10-3) reached double-digits in victories for just the third time in school history.

Florida (6-7) avoided being shut out for the first time since 1988 as Adam Mihalek kicked a 40-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining. That extended the Gators’ Football Bowl Subdivision record of scoring in 436 consecutive games.

Florida quarterback Jack Miller III, a transfer from Ohio State who was making his first collegiate start after Anthony Richardson opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft, completed 13 of 22 passes for 180 yards.

However, Florida’s rushing attack was limited to 39 yards on 33 attempts.

Gulbranson was 12-of-19 passing for 165 yards. Deshaun Fenwick rushed for 107 yards on 21 carries.

After leading 10-0 at the half, the Beavers pulled away with two touchdowns in a span of 1:36 early in the third quarter.

Oregon State took the second-half kickoff and went 64 yards on 10 plays, with Gulbranson throwing a 15-yard scoring strike to Silas Bolden on a slant pattern into the end zone. The drive was kept alive by Jack Colletto’s 11-yard run on a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from OSU’s own 44-yard line.

The Gators went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and Jeremy Crawshaw’s punt was blocked by Colletto, the Paul Hornung Award winner as the nation’s most versatile player.

Skyler Thomas picked up the ball and returned it seven yards to Florida’s 7-yard line.

On third-and-goal from the 7, Gulbranson scored on a quarterback draw to make it 23-0.

Oregon State’s Jam Griffin added a 2-yard TD run early in the fourth.

The Beavers put together an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive on their second possession of the game. Wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey scored on an 8-yard run on an end around with 2:10 left in the first quarter.

OSU’s Everett Hayes kicked a 27-yard field goal with 4:32 remaining in the second quarter to extend the lead to 10-0.

–Field Level Media

Florida Gators quarterback Jack Miller III (10) hands off to Florida Gators running back Montrell Johnson (2) in the first quarter. The Florida Gators scrimmaged in the first quarter during the annual Orange and Blue spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, Thursday afternoon, April 14, 2022. [Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner]2022

Oca Orangeandbluegame

Behind first-time starter at QB, Florida tackles No. 14 Oregon State

Florida coach Billy Napier was playing quarterback roulette even before his team arrived in Nevada for the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Gators (6-6 overall) opted to give third-year sophomore Jack Miller III his first collegiate start when they face No. 14 Oregon State (9-3) on Saturday.

Miller will get the nod after starter Anthony Richardson, who threw for 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, left school last week to begin preparing for the NFL draft. Backup Jalen Kitna was kicked off the team in connection with his arrest on child pornography charges.

Miller, who transferred from Ohio State, played sparingly behind Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud for the Buckeyes, completing 7 of 14 passes for 101 yards.

He was going to be Richardson’s backup until suffering a right thumb injury in August that required surgery.

“He has been participating in practice for a number of weeks,” Napier said. “He’s perfectly healthy. … While he was rehabbing, we were very intentional about keeping those guys engaged. He’s traveled with us. He’s went through the process of prepping each week, watching the cut-ups, all those things at the end of the week from a test and tips standpoint.

“So he’s been through the prep for a game. Obviously, the volume of work will be a little bit different for him. That’ll be the biggest challenge.”

A strong performance in the Las Vegas Bowl could make Miller the favorite for the starting job next fall, though Napier said the Gators will keep an eye on the transfer portal.

“I think we all would agree that this game, the quarterback position’s effect on your team with not only the production part but the leadership part, it’s critical,” Napier said. “We’ll be working hard to address some of the issues at that position.”

In addition to Richardson, the Gators had three other players opt out of the bowl: All-Southeastern Conference guard O’Cyrus Torrence, linebacker Ventrell Miller and receiver Justin Shorter.

The Beavers, meanwhile, seek only their third 10-win season.

“Our players are excited about the opponent,” said Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, the Pacific-12 Conference’s co-coach of the year. “Our players are excited to go to Las Vegas. A big-time stadium on the West Coast. I couldn’t be looking forward to it more.”

The Beavers also will start a backup quarterback, but for different reasons. Ben Gulbranson took over after Chance Nolan suffered a season-ending neck injury Oct. 1 against Utah and has won six of seven starts.

Oregon State is led by running back Damien Martinez, the Pac-12’s co-freshman of the year, who has six consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including 103 in a come-from-behind, 38-34 victory against rival Oregon on Nov. 26.

Smith, who quarterbacked the Beavers to their first 10-win season in 2001, was rewarded for the program’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 2012-13 with a six-year, $30.6 million contract extension.

“Coach Smith has taken the Oregon State football program to new heights, and we knew it was important to reward him and his staff to keep the momentum moving forward,” athletic director Scott Barnes said in a news release this week.

–Field Level Media

Dec 30, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) warms up before facing the Arizona State Sun Devils in the 2021 Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Braelon Allen, Wisconsin rumble past Arizona State in Las Vegas Bowl

Braelon Allen rushed for 159 yards on 29 carries and Wisconsin controlled the ball for the final 9:57 to hold on for a 20-13 victory over Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday night.

Graham Mertz threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ferguson and John Chenal rushed for an 8-yard score for the Badgers (9-4), who led 14-3 after the first quarter. Nick Herbig had two of Wisconsin’s four sacks as the Badgers won for the eighth time in their final nine games.

Jayden Daniels completed 11 of 21 passes for 159 yards and one interception and also rushed for 40 yards for the Sun Devils. Daniyel Ngata had a 3-yard scoring run and B.J. Green recorded two sacks for Arizona State (8-5).

Wisconsin outgained the Sun Devils 294-219. Arizona State had just 60 yards on the ground — Ngata had 23 on 11 carries — without 1,000-yard rusher Rachaad White, who opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft.

Mertz completed 11 of 15 passes for 137 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Badgers, who have won seven of their past eight bowl games.

The Sun Devils trailed by 14 at halftime before dominating the third quarter with 90 total yards while holding the Badgers to minus-7.

Ngata’s touchdown with 8:52 left in the third drew Arizona State to within 20-13.

But there would be no late-game drive to knot the score despite the Sun Devils pinning Wisconsin back at its own 3-yard line after a punt with 9:57 remaining in the contest. The Badgers responded with a punishing 18-play, 90-yard drive in which they ran 16 times and chalked up six first downs while eating up the rest of the time on the clock.

Allen carried 12 times for 101 yards in the first half — six more than Arizona State’s total yardage — as the Badgers held a 20-6 lead.

Chenal scored on his 8-yard run for Wisconsin with 11:40 left in the first quarter. The score was set up by John Torchio’s interception of Daniels at the Sun Devils’ 36.

Cristian Zendejas got Arizona State on the board with a 38-yard field goal with 4:21 left before Mertz connected with a wide-open Ferguson to make it 14-3 with 1:37 remaining in the quarter.

Zendejas kicked a 36-yard field goal less than four minutes into the second quarter before Collin Larsh made field goals of 48 and 35 yards to account for the 14-point lead at the break.

–Field Level Media

Nov 27, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Wisconsin Badgers tight end Jake Ferguson (84) runs the ball as Minnesota Gophers defensive back Justin Walley (0) tackles him during the fourth quarter  at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin seeks return to form vs. ASU in Las Vegas Bowl

The Wisconsin Badgers looked ready to call it a year when they ended the regular season with a thud, losing at Minnesota on Nov. 27.

A month later, they say they are motivated to make amends as they enter the Las Vegas Bowl against Arizona State on Thursday.

Wisconsin (8-4) is making its 20th consecutive bowl appearance, but a seven-game winning streak had the Badgers craving a loftier bowl destination … until the 23-13 loss in Minneapolis.

The ugly loss to the Golden Gophers came out of nowhere — the Badgers had averaged 32 points a game during their winning streak and had come a long way from the squad that had opened the season 1-3 while getting hammered by Notre Dame and Michigan.

“Obviously, the regular season didn’t end the way we would’ve liked it,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “But I go back to (the fact that) this group truly does enjoy each other. They care about each other, and we’ve got one game that we can play and one more opportunity. I think for all those reasons, it means a lot to them.”

The Badgers were stalwarts on defense, as they lead the nation in total defense (240.8 yards per game) and rank sixth in scoring defense (16.4 points per game).

Linebacker Leo Chenal is enjoying a superb season with 106 tackles, 17 for loss.

However, after Wisconsin allowed just 44 points in the first six games of the winning streak — and yielded just one touchdown or none in four of those games — the Badgers lost their defensive edge.

Wisconsin surrendered 51 total points in its final two contests, beating Nebraska 35-28 prior to the debacle at Minnesota.

Inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, who had 14.5 tackles for loss, wasn’t pleased with those results but said he sees the unit bouncing back against the Sun Devils (8-4).

“I’m expecting us to perform, work hard during bowl prep, get ready for Arizona State and make the trip a memorable one,” Sanborn said.

The Sun Devils started 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12 before splitting their next six games. The losses were to Utah, Washington State and Oregon State.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels accounted for 16 touchdowns (10 passing, six rushing) but didn’t make the big impact he needed to declare for the NFL draft. He recently announced he will be back in 2022 after passing for 2,222 yards (with nine interceptions) and rushing for 670 yards.

“We wanted him to come back, and that helps when you have a quarterback of his stature,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “And I think when he looks at his season this year, obviously, he wants to do some things a little bit better and we have to help him do that.

“I like his attitude. I like his mindset right now.”

The running attack took a couple of blows as Rachaad White (1,006 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns) is skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft and DeaMonte Trayanum (402 rushing yards, six scores) entered the transfer portal.

Daniyel Ngata, who averaged 6.4 yards a carry while producing 286 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, will be in the lead role against Wisconsin.

Arizona State cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Jack Jones also opted out of the contest to prepare for the draft.

“You kind of get it, understand it,” Edwards said. “It’s just the way it is, so you don’t worry about it. You just don’t. You allow the guys who have been backing them up to get an opportunity now to play in a bowl game, and they’re excited about playing.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA;  at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsOct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; The Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas strip. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

10th bowl game canceled as Las Vegas joins list

The 2020 Las Vegas Bowl was canceled Wednesday, making it the 10th game of the bowl season to be scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s Las Vegas Bowl was to be played in the recently opened Allegiant Stadium on the Las Vegas Strip. It was to feature teams from the Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.

“Unfortunately we will have to wait another year to present the Las Vegas Bowl in its new home,” game executive director John Saccenti said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision but the right one considering that our game was founded nearly three decades ago to help drive tourism to the Entertainment Capital of the World during the month of December.

“We are looking forward to making our bowl week bigger and better than ever in 2021.”

The Bahamas, Celebration, Fenway, Hawaii, Holiday, Pinstripe, Quick Lane, Redbox and Sun bowls also have been canceled.

The Pac-12 has lost four bowl tie-ins — the others being the Holiday, Redbox and Sun.

“The Pac-12 is disappointed for our teams and fans that the Las Vegas Bowl has been forced to cancel this year’s game,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “We look forward to next year’s game, which promises to be a fantastic national stage in one of the world’s best football stadiums, to showcase Pac-12 football.”

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement, “We have no doubt the Las Vegas Bowl will be a great part of the future SEC bowl lineup.”

The Las Vegas Bowl, first played in 1992, had a tie-in with the Mountain West from 2001-19 prior to this season.

Washington of the Pac-12 routed Boise State of the Mountain West 38-7 in the 2019 edition.

–Field Level Media