The Wisconsin Badgers looked ready to call it a year when they ended the regular season with a thud, losing at Minnesota on Nov. 27.
A month later, they say they are motivated to make amends as they enter the Las Vegas Bowl against Arizona State on Thursday.
Wisconsin (8-4) is making its 20th consecutive bowl appearance, but a seven-game winning streak had the Badgers craving a loftier bowl destination … until the 23-13 loss in Minneapolis.
The ugly loss to the Golden Gophers came out of nowhere — the Badgers had averaged 32 points a game during their winning streak and had come a long way from the squad that had opened the season 1-3 while getting hammered by Notre Dame and Michigan.
“Obviously, the regular season didn’t end the way we would’ve liked it,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “But I go back to (the fact that) this group truly does enjoy each other. They care about each other, and we’ve got one game that we can play and one more opportunity. I think for all those reasons, it means a lot to them.”
The Badgers were stalwarts on defense, as they lead the nation in total defense (240.8 yards per game) and rank sixth in scoring defense (16.4 points per game).
Linebacker Leo Chenal is enjoying a superb season with 106 tackles, 17 for loss.
However, after Wisconsin allowed just 44 points in the first six games of the winning streak — and yielded just one touchdown or none in four of those games — the Badgers lost their defensive edge.
Wisconsin surrendered 51 total points in its final two contests, beating Nebraska 35-28 prior to the debacle at Minnesota.
Inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, who had 14.5 tackles for loss, wasn’t pleased with those results but said he sees the unit bouncing back against the Sun Devils (8-4).
“I’m expecting us to perform, work hard during bowl prep, get ready for Arizona State and make the trip a memorable one,” Sanborn said.
The Sun Devils started 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12 before splitting their next six games. The losses were to Utah, Washington State and Oregon State.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels accounted for 16 touchdowns (10 passing, six rushing) but didn’t make the big impact he needed to declare for the NFL draft. He recently announced he will be back in 2022 after passing for 2,222 yards (with nine interceptions) and rushing for 670 yards.
“We wanted him to come back, and that helps when you have a quarterback of his stature,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “And I think when he looks at his season this year, obviously, he wants to do some things a little bit better and we have to help him do that.
“I like his attitude. I like his mindset right now.”
The running attack took a couple of blows as Rachaad White (1,006 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns) is skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft and DeaMonte Trayanum (402 rushing yards, six scores) entered the transfer portal.
Daniyel Ngata, who averaged 6.4 yards a carry while producing 286 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, will be in the lead role against Wisconsin.
Arizona State cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Jack Jones also opted out of the contest to prepare for the draft.
“You kind of get it, understand it,” Edwards said. “It’s just the way it is, so you don’t worry about it. You just don’t. You allow the guys who have been backing them up to get an opportunity now to play in a bowl game, and they’re excited about playing.”
–Field Level Media