LAS VEGAS — Wisconsin got a big game from running back Braelon Allen and timely plays from its defense to beat Arizona State 20-13 in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday night.
Offense: Braelon Allen
The Wisconsin running back looked fresh after a month off, running for 159 yards on 29 carries and earning game MVP honors. Nearly a third of those came on the final drive of the game when the Badgers ran off the final 9:53 on the clock. It included runs of five, nine, 14 and eight yards as Wisconsin finished off the Sun Devils.
Allen’s 159 yards were the most by a UW freshman in a bowl game since Ron Dayne ran for 246 in the 1996 Copper Bowl. He finished the season with 1,268 yards and figures to be in the conversation for the best running back in the country next season and a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Defense: Nick Herbig
The sophomore had a big night chasing after the dangerous Jayden Daniels. Herbig ended up with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. The second of those sacks was huge, as it came with Arizona State facing third-and-8 and driving in Wisconsin territory. It proved to be the final offensive play for the Sun Devils.
Herbig closed the season with nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. With the departure of several senior leaders on the defensive side of the ball, Herbig should become the face of what will be a much different looking unit for the Badgers.
Wisconsin’s offense had been struggling. The Badgers had minus-7 yards in the third quarter and couldn’t get much going with a beat-up cast of playmakers. Facing a third-and-12 and in danger of forcing the defense to cover for him and the offense again, Graham Mertz hung in the pocket and delivered this throw on what proved to be the biggest play of the game for the quarterback.
— Wisconsin opened the game without five starters due to injury – wide receiver Danny Davis, offensive linemen Logan Bruss and Joe Tippmann, cornerback Faion Hicks and safety Collin Wilder. They would lose a few more during the game, including wide receiver Kendric Pryor (ankle) and tight end Jake Ferguson (thigh bruise).
— Fullback John Chenal scored Wisconsin’s first touchdown after it appeared he would not even be able to play in the game. The Badgers left the senior back in Wisconsin after he tested positive for COVID-19 before Christmas. Under the CDC guidelines in place at the time, he had to quarantine for 10 days. But those guidelines changed Monday to five days and it was his brother, linebacker Leo Chenal, who called and told him about the change. John Chenal drove to Madison on Monday and jumped a flight to Vegas the next day.
— The Chenal brothers have not decided whether they will return for another year with the Badgers. John Chenal has the option of returning for a fifth year, while Leo Chenal has a decision on whether to turn pro or not. Leo told reporters that he will go back home and talk with family before deciding. He admitted that if John came back, it might impact his decision.
“Yeah, definitely there’s an influence there. It’s your brother,” the All-American said. “If he would stay, you want to play football with your brother. Whether you get paid or not, it’s really special to be able to say you played with your brother. At the end of the day, I’m just going to try to do what’s best for me and my family.”
— A number of true freshmen were forced into extensive action for one reason or another. Wide receivers Markus Allen and Skyler Bell saw a lot of time on offense. Allen had a huge 31-yard grab on third down on Wisconsin’s first scoring drive, while Bell kept a drive alive with a diving 11-yard grab that led to a field goal. It was Bell’s first game action in college. Outside linebacker Darryl Peterson played a healthy amount on defense and safety Hunter Wohler came up with a tackle for loss in the fourth quarter.
“It’s good seeing Hunter out there. It’s good seeing Darryl out there just making plays,” Markus Allen said. “This is what we’re having coming back. We’re going to be young next year but I feel like we’re in a good swing right now. Everybody is getting comfortable. Everybody is getting used to the speed. I feel like there is a big future ahead for the Wisconsin Badgers.”
— There were reports prior to the game that Virginia Tech was targeting offensive line coach Joe Rudolph to fill the same role in Blacksburg. Those reports promoted a reporter to ask right tackle Tanor Bortolini if he expected Rudolph to still be his coach next year.
“We’re not quite 100 percent sure yet,” Bortolini said. “But if he’s not, he’s been a great coach here. I’ve loved my time with him. I came here to play for him. He’s a great coach, one of the best in the nation, no doubt in my mind. If he chooses to go and that’s what’s best for him, that’s fine. We’ll keep working. If not, I’d be more than happy to see him stay.”
A former standout lineman in the early 90s for Wisconsin, Rudolph has been with coach Paul Chryst for 14 years, including 11 in Madison.
Inside the Numbers
61.0 – That is how many yards per game Wisconsin allowed on the ground this season. It is the fewest in school history, besting the mark of 66.8 yards per game by the 1951 defense.
47 – That is how many games Jake Ferguson played in his career and it is also the number of games he had at least one catch in. The tight end had three grabs for 33 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an injury in the third quarter.
6-1 – That is Paul Chryst’s bowl record after Thursday night. Overall, the Badgers have won seven of their last eight bowl games.
5-0 — That is the Big Ten’s bowl record with five teams still to play.