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ASU football ends season with loss to Wisconsin in Las Vegas Bowl

The Sun Devils struggled to produce offense in their 20-13 loss against the Badgers

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ASU junior Jayden Daniels (5) attempts to hop over a player from UNLV on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. ASU won 37-10.

For the second time in the Herm Edwards era, ASU football will leave Las Vegas with a disappointing end to its season. An ineffective rushing attack and defense doomed ASU in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl against Wisconsin, losing 20-13.

The Badgers won the game behind the legs of freshman running back Braelon Allen, who rushed for 159 yards. The 17-year-old carried the ball 29 times for 5.5 yards per carry. 

Wisconsin dominated the first half thanks to its defense. The Badger defense repeatedly broke through the offensive line and sacked junior quarterback Jayden Daniels three times in the first quarter. His accuracy woes also continued to show up, as he missed several open receivers for big plays.

"We got off to a bad start, and you never want to fall behind a team like this," Edwards said. "In the first half, our gap responsibility versus the run wasn't as sound as in the second half."

Daniels completed only 52% of his passes and threw an interception. The offensive line couldn't open any lanes for running opportunities, as the offense averaged just 1.8 yards per attempt. ASU only had two drives with more than eight plays.

"(Wisconsin is) a very sound, physical defense," offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. "They did a good job of mixing up some things we hadn't seen on film. They do a really good job of getting off the blocks, with their hands (and) they did a great job with their run defense."

ASU, which has had success depending on the success of the run game, struggled without redshirt senior running back Rachaad White, who opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft, and sophomore DeaMonte Trayanum, who transferred to Ohio State. The next man up was redshirt freshman Daniyel Ngata, who ran for 23 yards on 11 carries.

"(Losing players) is tough everyone is going through it," Hill said. "But I thought our guys had good energy, I thought our guys played hard, we just didn't make enough plays." 

Herm Edwards and his staff came out of halftime with what seemed like a formula to come back. The defense was stout, giving up a net -7 yards in the third quarter, which gave the offense great field position. Wisconsin failed to score in the second half.

"We did what we were supposed to do in the second half, and unfortunately we fell short in the first half, and that affected us in the long term," graduate student linebacker Kyle Soelle said. 

Much of the offensive success for ASU came from Daniels scrambling. He was able to convert several key third downs with his runs, but he couldn't find much success on the script. ASU did piece it together for a touchdown on its first drive of the second half to bring the game to within one score.

"We knew going into this (that) this was going to be a tough game (for Daniels), and he was going to have to do some things with his feet if he wasn't able to get the ball out," Hill said. "I thought he played tough, I thought he played gutsily."

ASU controlled momentum late in the third quarter after trimming the deficit to 20-13. After driving down the field to Wisconsin's 30, a sack and a penalty quickly killed the drive and its momentum. ASU never got that close to scoring again.

After punts from both teams following ASU's failed drive, Wisconsin produced an 18-play drive that ate almost 10 minutes of play in the fourth quarter to end the game. The drive included a third-and-12 conversion for Wisconsin that took a big hit to ASU, according to Edwards.

"They're scary, Wisconsin can chew up drives," Edwards said. "Every time they ran the ball I was looking at the clock."

ASU will finish 2021 at 8-5, a season in which many expected the team to compete more in a weaker Pac-12 Conference. The Sun Devils are now 1-2 in bowl games under Edwards and have been unable to reach nine wins in three full seasons.

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