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Wildcats Cap Season With LVBowl Victory

Posted December 27, 2023 | lasvegasbowl | Final Stats

LAS VEGAS — The Northwestern Wildcats opened the season losing four of their first seven games under first-year coach David Braun with little to no hope of a successful campaign.

Saturday night they completed an improbable 5-1 finish to the season with a 14-7 win over Pac-12 foe Utah in the 33rd edition of the Las Vegas Bowl.

Ben Bryant, who was named the 2023 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl MVP, passed for 222 yards and found Bryce Kirtz in the corner of the end zone midway through the fourth quarter for the game-winning score.

“We had a little slant-go there,” said Bryant, a sixth-year senior who transferred in from Cincinnati. “It didn’t look like he was going to be there, but I trusted him through that collision. I threw it up to him and he made the play.”

Bryant, who left the game briefly after a scary hit just before the game-winning drive, was 22 for 34 with two touchdowns as Northwestern (8-5) closed out its season with a fourth straight win.

“Ben being a transfer, (Ben) embodies what it looks like it brings a transfer to Northwestern,” said Braun, who inherited a team that went 1-11 in 2022 and improved to 8-5 with a bowl victory in his first year under the headset. “It’s about the right person. Not the right athlete, but the right person.”

The Wildcats limited Utah (8-5) to 221 yards and had two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Bryson Barnes was 8 for 13 for 55 yards with two interceptions, and Ja’Quinden Jackson rushed for 55 yards on eight carries to lead Utah, which lost three of its last four games.

Utah’s 73 passing yards was the fourth-lowest in Las Vegas Bowl history and lowest since Utah had 71 in 2015 against BYU.

The Utes have now been involved in the two lowest-scoring Las Vegas Bowls, beating USC 10-6 in 2001, and Saturday’s loss to the Wildcats.

“Tough to win a football game scoring seven points,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Our defense was pretty good, kept us in the game. This is not the players’ fault. We as coaches have to get them better prepared.”

Northwestern senior defensive back Jaheem Joseph had two interceptions, which both came in the first half, tying four others for the Las Vegas Bowl record for most in a game.

The Wildcats struck first when Bryant connected with Cam Johnson from 12 yards out for a score with just 1:20 left in the first half, capping an eight-play drive that covered 75 yards. Northwestern’s 7-0 halftime lead was the lowest first-half score in Las Vegas Bowl history.

Both defenses were dominant until an action picked up in the fourth quarter, when the Utes tied the game with 12:38 left behind a 6-yard TD plunge from Micah Bernard, who was playing for the first time since injuring a knee in the season-opener against Florida.

The Utes, who will move from the Pac-12 to the Big 12 next season, will hope to rebound from a disappointing season with quarterback Cam Rising, who missed the whole season with a knee injury, returning for 2024. It will be his seventh season of college football.

2023 Las Vegas Bowl Notes & Records

  • Northwestern senior DB Jaheem Joseph (#3)’s 2 interceptions (both came in the first half) tied the Las Vegas Bowl record for most in a game. Happened four times previously:
    • Kameron Kelly, San Diego State, 2016 vs. Houston
    • Tevin Carter, Utah, 2015 vs. BYU
    • Justin Robinson, BYU, 2006 vs. Oregon
    • Donald Toomer, Utah State, 1993 vs. Ball State
  • 7-0 is the lowest scoring first half in Las Vegas Bowl history. Previous lows were 2022 – Oregon State vs Florida, OSU led 10-0 & 2001 & Utah vs. USC, Utah led 10-0.
  • 14-7 is the lowest scoring Las Vegas Bowl since Utah beat USC 10-6 in 2001.
  • Northwestern senior QB Ben Bryant was named the 2023 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl MVP after going 23-for-34 for 222 yards and two TDs, including the game-winning touchdown with 6:19 to play in the fourth quarter, a 19-yard pass to WR #17 Bryce Kirtz.
  • Utah junior RB Micah Bernard returned from a season-long injury for his first action since the Utes’ opener against Florida on August 31 and tied the game at 7 with a 6-yard rushing touchdown with 12:38 to play in the fourth quarter.
  • This was Utah’s sixth Las Vegas Bowl appearance (4-2), tying BYU for most in history.
  • Big Ten improves to 2-0 in the Las Vegas Bowl with Wisconsin getting the other win in 2021.
  • Pac-12 is now 10-11 all-time in Las Vegas Bowls.
  • Utah’s 73 passing yards were the fourth-lowest in Las Vegas Bowl history and lowest since Utah had 71 in 2015 against BYU.
  • Utah’s 14 total pass attempts were tied for the second-fewest in Las Vegas Bowl history, matching San Diego State’s 14 attempts against Houston in 2016. Fewest was 13 by North Carolina against San Diego State in 1998.
  • Utah’s nine completions were tied for third-fewest with Utah in 2015 vs. BYU.
  • Utah’s 51 rushing attempts ties for third-most in a Las Vegas Bowl, matching Central Michigan in 1994 vs. UNLV.
  • Northwestern’s first bowl win since the 35-19 Citrus Bowl win over Auburn in the 2020 season (Covid-shortened year).
  • This marks the fifth straight bowl loss for Utah with the losing streak beginning with a loss to Northwestern on December 3