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