Last night’s SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl could have been called the Walking Wounded Bowl since both teams went into the game dangerously shorthanded.
That helps explain why this bowl game was sorely lacking in the excitement fans were expecting. And also helps ASU fans better understand their team’s struggle to stay competitive in what turned out to be a 20-13 loss to Wisconsin.
The Badgers could have made the margin of victory even wider but settled for running out the clock in the final couple of minutes, when they were inside ASU’s 10-yard line, rather than put more points on the board.
Wisconsin (9-4) was in complete control during the scoreless fourth quarter, maintaining ball possession for the final 10 minutes of the game by relying on run plays and steadily picking up one first down after another.
While both teams were missing key players, it was the Sun Devils who were most impacted. They went into the game without their top two running backs, Rachaad White, who opted to sit out the game in preparation for entering the upcoming NFL draft, and DeaMonte Trayanum, who entered the transfer portal following the final game of the regular season.
Also missing were wide receiver Johnny Wilson, who has also transferred, and other key components of ASU’s defense that were instrumental in compiling an 8-4 record in the regular season: linebacker Darien Butler and starting corners Chase Lucas and Jack Jones (all three opted out). Add to that list a couple of key offensive linemen, Dohnovan West and Henry Hattis, both on the injured list.
Without the firepower that has sparked the offense so far this season, it was an uphill struggle against the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. The Sun Devils didn’t add a touchdown to the stat sheet until the second half, settling for a couple of field goals in the first two quarters.
ASU’s junior quarterback Jayden Daniels was intercepted on the first possession of the game and Wisconsin quickly capitalized on the misstep, needing just a minute and a half to score their first points and take a 7-0 lead.
Three minutes later ASU answered with a 38-yard field goal by Cristian Zendejas. It then took the Badgers less than three minutes to answer with another TD, and Wisconsin led 14-3 as the first quarter closed and never gave up the lead the rest of the way.
The Badgers ran just six plays to score two touchdowns. It was not a good omen.
Just a minute into the second quarter ASU used an interception at midfield by Timarcus Davis, the first of his college career, to set up another scoring attempt. But the Devils fell short again and settled for their second field goal. Davis led the ASU defense with nine tackles.
Wisconsin used a couple of field goals to stretch the lead to 20-6 going into halftime.
ASU was able to post its lone TD at the 9:25 mark of the third quarter when Ricky Persall pulled in a 38-yard pass play to take the Devils to the 10-yard line where Daniyel Ngata finished the drive by punching the ball in from three yards out for the 20-13 score that held the rest of the way.
Wisconsin relied on its outstanding freshman running back, Braelon Allen, to methodically gobble up yardage and keep the Badger offense on the field during the final quarter, using 18 plays to cover 90 yards. Allen (photo above) had more rushing yards in the first half, 101, than the entire ASU offense and finished with 159 yards on the ground. It was the eighth game this season that the 17-year-old has hit the 100-yard mark.
ASU’s running game was practically non-existent, with Daniels leading the team with 40 net yards and Ngata finishing with 23. Without White and Trayanum alongside him in the backfield, Daniels was given the rushing load, making 19 running attempts. However, the Wisconsin defense spent a lot of time in ASU’s backfield, harassing Daniels and giving him little room to roam. He was sacked five times.
This was the first time in the last 17 games that the ASU team has been unable to rush for 100 yards.
This was a game that ASU coach Herm Edwards agreed to play, knowing he would be woefully shorthanded. But that doesn’t mean there’s going to be an asterisk next to the final result.
As it turned out, this was just a daunting challenge the 2021 team had to deal with. A hill too high to climb.
Now on to a new year.