Here we are again. The dawn of a new year is upon us and, at the same time, another football season draws to a close. Your Wisconsin Badgers (8-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) will take on the Arizona State Sun Devils (8-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12) in the Las Vegas Bowl late on Thursday night, with the winner claiming a trophy that is hopefully more sturdy than the Duke’s Mayo Bowl one.
The Badgers enter the game looking to get the sour taste of losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe to Minnesota and the Big Ten West division title to Iowa out of their mouths. The Sun Devils will be trying to win their ninth game of the season, which would be the first time they’ve done that since 2014 when they won 10 games, for the second straight season, under Todd Graham.
Both of these teams like to run the ball first, but do it in different ways. The Badgers will obviously try and establish it with star freshman RB Braelon Allen while the Sun Devils will get a bunch of their yards on the ground thanks to star QB Jayden Daniels. ASU will not have the services of their top two running backs, Rachaad White (preparing for NFL Draft) or DeaMonte Trayanum (transfer to Ohio State to play LB). White, in particular, is a big loss as he rushed for 1,006 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
If you look at the advanced stats preview below, the numbers would have you believe that this will be an extremely close game. While I don’t think this will be a blowout, I do think that Wisconsin should be able to handle the Sun Devils with relative ease. These numbers don’t take into account all of the opt outs ASU has had (multiple defensive starters and a couple of offensive linemen too) nor do they take into account the weaker schedule that the Sun Devils played.
LAS VEGAS BOWL— parker (@statsowar) December 7, 2021
WISCONSIN v ARIZONA STATE pic.twitter.com/9iIGKwpsNW
The Badgers have a lot of trouble with quarterbacks like Daniels (see: Martinez, Adrian) but are usually able to bottle up the rest of the running game. ASU also has a 6-foot-8 tight end, Curtis Hodges, that will be a matchup problem as well. Per usual, if Wisconsin can get some pressure on Daniels and make him throw some contested passes, there will be turnovers to be had.
However, if Daniels is able to extend drives with his legs and redshirt freshman RB Daniyel Ngata (6.4 ypc in limited action) finds some room to run as well, Wisconsin’s defense could be in a little bit of trouble. I don’t see Ngata getting much traction against Jack Sanborn, Leo Chenal, Keeanu Benton and crew, but there isn’t a ton of tape on him so maybe he can surprise UW early.
On offense, Graham Mertz is going to need to take advantage of the fact that both of ASU’s starting cornerbacks opted out of this game. Wideouts Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor are both playing their final games as Badgers and will be looking to go out with a bang. They should find themselves open often and it’ll be up to Mertz to hit them in the numbers.
Allen might not find as many large holes as he’d like since ASU’s two defensive tackles are 315 pounds plus and can each occupy multiple blockers. Hopefully Paul Chryst has installed some misdirection rushing plays to try and get fast guys into space and keep the big Sun Devils out of the equation.
Here are the staff predictions for the game:
Tyler: 24-17, Wisconsin
Owen: 31-17, Wisconsin
J.J.: 24-21, Wisconsin
Belz: 24-16, Wisconsin
Rock: 20-10, Wisconsin
Kevin: 24-17, Wisconsin
Ryan: 27-10, Wisconsin
Bremen: 26-19, Wisconsin
Drew: 31-20, Wisconsin
Jake: 24-13, Wisconsin
Neal: 23-17, Wisconsin
It is probably worth noting that six out of seven staffers at House of Sparky picked Wisconsin to win too.
Here are the depth charts for Wisconsin and Arizona State:
And here is the updated injury/availibility report:
If you can’t read the embedded tweet, here are the players out for the game:
KR Stephan Bracey
OL Logan Bruss
WR Danny Davis III
TE Jack Eschenbach
CB Faion Hicks
CB Semar Melvin
OL Joe Tippmann
It was also noted that FB John Chenal is in uniform and OLB TJ Bollers is wearing No. 47 for the game and taking reps at fullback.