BADGERS HOLD ON TO DOWN SUN DEVILS
By W.G. Ramirez special to LVBowl.com
LAS VEGAS — Braelon Allen may not be old enough to partake in much of what Las Vegas is known for, and has to offer, but he turned the Entertainment Capital of the World into his own playground in the 2021 Las Vegas Bowl.
The 17-year-old true freshman from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin rumbled for 159 yards to lead the Wisconsin Badgers to a 20-13 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Allen, originally recruited as a defensive player, began the season near the bottom of Wisconsin’s running back depth chart.
Thursday he was the headliner inside the home of the Raiders with the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip beaming through the lanai doors of the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium.
Becoming just the third running back in Las Vegas Bowl-history to rush for 100 yards by halftime – he had 101 to notch his eighth 100-yard game of the season – Allen was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, adding his name to a trophy that includes former NFL running backs Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch.
“Once we got the first few runs, getting a couple of yards, everything started flowing and started to come back together,” Allen said. “Coming into fall camp and throughout the beginning of the season when I wasn’t really playing at all, to put together the season that I did is really special,” Allen said. “I can’t thank my teammates and my O-line enough. Definitely unexpected but a lot of fun and excited for the future.”
Graham Mertz finished 11 of 15 for 137 yards and had a touchdown to senior tight end Jake Ferguson, who caught three passes for 33 yards in his final game for Wisconsin (9-4).
The Badgers started 1-3 with Big Ten losses to ranked opponents Penn State and Michigan but answered with a seven-game winning streak to earn a 20th consecutive bowl bid.
“It was just all us coming together, trusting each other, being confident in our prep and taking that extra step to just perfect what we were doing and making sure we went into Saturdays with no doubts and preparing like we were supposed to, to make sure that we’re successful on Saturdays,” Allen added.
Clinging to a seven-point lead, the Badgers took over at their own 3 with just under 10 minutes remaining and drove 90 yards to run out the clock in the first bowl game at Allegiant Stadium.
Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels threw for 199 total yards and threw an interception for the Sun Devils (8-5), who dropped to 3-6 in bowls since 2011. They’re now 0-3 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Sun Devils were held to 219 total yards, including 102 in the first half. Wisconsin entered with the nation’s top defense, allowing 240.8 yards per game.
“Disappointing outcome for us,” ASU coach Herm Edwards said. “We got off to a bad start, I thought. Fell behind, and you don’t want to fall behind to a team like this. They chew a lot of time off the clock with the running game. They’re scary, because when you watch them on tape, that’s what they can do, they can chew up some drives.”
The Sun Devils allowed just 21 sacks this season, an average of 1.75 per game. But Daniels was sacked a season-high four times while Wisconsin held the Sun Devils to 60 yards rushing on 33 carries.
“They’re one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation for a reason,” Daniels said. “They’re very disciplined. We knew coming into the game that the game would be won at the line of scrimmage. I feel like we could have done a little bit better job run blocking, getting the run going.”
Associated Press contributed to this story
SRS DISTRIBUTION LAS VEGAS BOWL GAME NOTES:
-The 33 combined points marked the lowest-scoring Las Vegas Bowl since Boise State downed Utah 26-3 in 2010
-This marked the first Las Vegas Bowl played inside the new, $2 billion Allegiant Stadium after last year’s game was not played because of the pandemic. Attendance was 32,515
-Wisconsin freshman RB Braelon Allen became the third player to net at least 100 yards rushing at halftime of a Las Vegas Bowl (101), joining Utah’s Mike Anderson (153 vs. Fresno State in 1999 – finished with a LVB-record 254) and Washington’s Bishop Sankey (130 vs. Boise State in 2012 – finished with 205)
-Allen finished with 159 yards rushing on 29 carries and was named the Rich Abajian Most Valuable Player of the game. He became the 10th running back to earn the honor in the bowl game’s history
-Allen’s rushing total ranks seventh in Las Vegas Bowl history
-ASU and Wisconsin faced each other for the fifth time in history, for the first time since 2013 and the for the first time in the postseason
-Despite the loss, the Sun Devils still lead the all-time series 3-2
-Wisconsin improved its all-time record in Las Vegas to 5-1 after going 4-1 vs. hometown UNLV
-ASU fell to 3-0 in the Las Vegas Bowl (also lost in 2011 and 2018)
-The Badgers were the first team from the Big Ten Conference to appear in a Las Vegas Bowl
-This marked the 30th year of the Las Vegas Bowl but the 29th game because there was no game played in 2020 because of the pandemic
-The third Las Vegas Bowl Hall of Fame class was recognized at the game: record-setting former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, former coach Chris Petersen (4-0 in LV Bowls with two teams), and longtime ESPN executive Pete Derzis
-The Pac-12 Conference fell to 9-10 all-time in the Las Vegas Bowl
-Next year’s Las Vegas Bowl will feature a team from the SEC vs. a team from the Pac-12