LAS VEGAS – This was a battle of attrition.
The state of Arizona has entered the Las Vegas Bowl and has lost several key players to injuries and opt-outs.
UW was missing four starters and lost important players over the course of the night.
The Badgers made enough big plays on either side of the ball to build a 14-point half-time lead, then ran the final 9 minutes 53 seconds with an 18-Game, 90-yard drive that ended in the 7 to Hold the Sun Devils on for a 20-13 win in front of 32,515 spectators on Thursday at Allegiant Stadium.
UW started the drive at his 3 and got a huge 30 yard passing game from Graham Mertz to Chimere Dike to Arizona State 46, in 3rd and 12th place.
Braelon Allen won 14 yards in a punishing run on the Sun Devils’ 20 and the state of Arizona was sidelined with UW hitting third and 4 out of 14.
Allen won 3 yards on the next play and with Arizona State without timeouts, Mertz took a knee and then called a timeout with 48 seconds to go.
BOX EVALUATION: Wisconsin 20, State of Arizona 13
Mertz went down on his knees again and UW called his last time-out three seconds behind. Defenseman John Chenal, who had an 8-yard touchdown run, won 3 yards on the final play to end the game.
The Badgers (9-4) improved their bowl record under Chryst to 6-1 and ended the season with a 9-4 record. They suffered three of their defeats against teams that were in the top 20 at the time.
Arizona State finished 8-5.
UW did without four starters – right tackle Logan Bruss, center Joe Tippman, cornerback Faion Hicks and wide receiver Danny Davis – and kickoff returner Stephan Bracey.
They lost the reserve wide receivers Kendric Pryor (leg) and Dike (unspecified) in the first half and the traffic jam Brady Schipper (arm) in the first half. They lost the tight end to Jake Ferguson (leg) in the third quarter.
Dike returned late in the third quarter with a huge 30 yard catch on the third and 12th in the final quarter to give UW the ball at the Arizona State 46.
Allen broke the 100-yard mark for the eighth time in his freshman season, finishing the race with 159 yards on 29 carries. He was named the game’s MVP.
Allen finished the season with (1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns to 186 carries).
Quarterback Graham Mertz, who entered the night with 10 interceptions and nine touchdowns, threw an interception that resulted in an Arizona State field goal.
But he was 3 of 4 for 57 yards in third place in the first half, had the big throw on Dike on the final drive, and was 11 of 15 for 157 yards.
The UW defense held the state of Arizona on two red zone trips to field goals in the first half and only allowed one touchdown drive after half time.
The state of Arizona, playing without its two top tailbacks and its starting center, had to rely almost entirely on quarterback Jayden Daniels.
Daniels, who came in with 2,222 yards passing yards and 670 rushing yards, passed for 159 yards and fell 19 times for 40 yards. He was released four times.
The Badgers quickly struck to take the 7-0 lead.
Arizona State got the ball first, but safety John Torchio made a diving interception on the 36th of the Sun Devils just 1:46 into the game.
UW faced third and 12 three games later, but Mertz found newcomer wide receiver Markus Allen for 30 yards to the 8.
Chenal, who only joined the team on Wednesday, scored in the next game and helped UW take the lead with 11:40 minutes in the quarter.
The Sun Devils, led by Daniels, with a 14-game, 55-yard drive that resulted in a 38-yard field goal to reduce UW’s lead to 7-3 with 4:21 in the quarter.
Daniels battled for wins of 5, 6, 16, and 7 yards on the drive and turned the third-down chances on the third and fourth runs.
However, his pass on the third and 10th from the UW 20 was incomplete and Cristian Zendejas hit the field goal to save points.
It only took UW six plays and 2:44 to land 75 yards for a touchdown.
Braelon Allen broke off a 43-yard run on the Sun Devils’ 8 in the third game of the drive, and Mertz hit a wide open Jake Ferguson for a 7-yard score two plays later. Collin Larsh added his second conversion and UW had two scores in two series and a 14-3 lead, 1:37 in the quarter.
UW forced a punt and took over at 19, but Mertz tried to hit Pryor over the middle on first possession, which cost the Badgers.
Mertz’s throw was behind Pryor and cornerback Timarcus Davis intercepted the pass at UW 35.
The Badgers defense allowed a first down and the Sun Devils settled for another field goal from Zendejas, this time from 36 yards, and the lead was 14-6 at 11:13 in the half.
With his third result, UW reacted to three possession of the ball and took the lead 17-6.
Mertz hit Ferguson for 12 yards to Arizona State 46 in 3rd and 3rd to keep the drive alive, but four games later Jack Dunn couldn’t keep up in 3rd and 4th place.
Chryst appeared to be arguing that Dunn was on hold trying to get the ball back, but no call was made and Larsh hit a 48-yard field goal at 5:42 in the half to help UW get his lead on Increase 11 points.
Arizona State went in game three for the first time, and UW took over after the punt at 28.
The Badgers moved the ball down the field, with the key game being a 15-yard pass from Mertz to freshman Skyler Bell to the Sun Devils’ 40 on the third and 9th.
The drive stalled at 17 when Mertz fought for 7 yards in 3rd and 8th place, but UW called his final timeout with 7 seconds remaining and Larsh hit a 35-yard field goal for a 20-6 half-time lead.
Since the Badgers ran out of healthy wide receivers, they couldn’t use a pass-to-interference call that gave them a first down at 35.
Mertz was fired for a 13 yard loss on third and 7, and UW was forced to poke.
The Sun Devils then ran 64 yards in just five games for 19 yards twice and passed for 38 yards before backwater Daniyel Ngata scored 8:52 in the third game in a 4-yard run to put UW’s lead to 20-13 to reduce.
Could UW’s injury-threatening offensive react?
UW went three and out and Mertz was released again in third place.
The Sun Devils moved from their 27 to the UW 30 before the Badgers defenses rose.
Linebacker Jordan Turner, who replaced Leo Chenal, sacked Daniels for a 7 yard loss. Sanborn sacked Daniels for a 12 yard loss and the Sun Devils quarterback was called for grounding.
Then Noah Burks brought Daniels down in the open after just 2 yards and the Sun Devils had to punt.
UW went out three and back, but Nick Herbig came in with a huge third down sack and the Sun Devils had to poke fourth and 13th of their 48.
UW was called in to run into the punter – a 5 yard penalty – and reserve punter Logan Tyler pinned the Badgers on their 3 at 9:57 minutes with a 44 yard approach.
The Badgers had zero yards in 11 games by that point.
Allen won 5 yards on the first down and 4 yards on the second to build the third and 1 from the 12th UW, 3 out of 8 on the third down, got a 3 yard run from Allen to 15 for a critical first down. Mertz hit Chenal for 10 yards and a first down at 26 and three plays later on third and 12, Mertz took on a flashing defender and hit Dike for a 30-yard win on the Sun Devils’ 46.
Absolutely huge game.
The Badgers kept tearing yards, taking their time until the last second disappeared and they’d finished the season with a win.