In a game easily overlooked this bowl season, the 2018 Arizona bowl was anything but predictable. Despite competing with the Peach Bowl and first CFP semifinal game, Nevada and Arkansas State competed in an overtime thriller.
2018 Arizona Bowl Recap
In what was supposed to be a high scoring affair between two explosive offenses led by senior quarterbacks, the defenses stole the show. Nevada came away with a gritty 16 – 13 win in Tucson to stun Arkansas State. The Red Wolves led for 58 minutes and 54 seconds of regulation until the Wolfpack finally broke into the end zone on a 1-yd Devonte Lee run. Arkansas State was able to tie the game with a 32-yard field goal as time expired. However, the Red Wolves failed to get a touchdown in the first overtime period. Nevada was then able to capitalize on the late momentum and seal the win with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ty Gangi to Reagan Roberson.
Red Wolves Red Zone Issues
Fans tuning into the Arizona Bowl may have mistaken the game for a rerun of the now infamous 2018 Cheez-it bowl. The two veteran quarterbacks surprisingly combined for a whopping five interceptions. The Red Wolves were particularly stricken with the turnover bug. They had drives inside the 10-yard line that resulted in three points and two interceptions. Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had three total interceptions and badly overthrew open receivers on his first two interceptions and then forced a ball into double coverage in the red zone to add a third.
The Red Wolves were expected to move the ball against an improved but still susceptible Nevada defense. In the end, they were able to rack up 499 total yards in the contest, but these turnovers and missed red zone opportunities cost them in a close contest. The Red Wolves only converted one touchdown in seven trips to the red zone.
Wolfpack Offense Ignites late
The Wolfpack offense struggled early and often in the contest. Their first 15 drives accounted for 3 points and 2 turnovers. Overall, the offense only mustered a mere 285 total yards in the contest. However, the offense found traction when it mattered most. With only 1:06 left in regulation, the Wolfpack finally found the end zone for the first time. They would not finish another drive without a touchdown in the contest, as they also were able to punch it in the end zone on their overtime drive and seal the win. Despite their persistent struggles, they were able to find another gear with their season on the line.
Nevada senior quarterback, Gangi did not have a game to remember, although the win will help him find solace in a less than stellar performance. Prior to their final two scoring drives, he had gone 13-27 for only 122 yards and two interceptions. In the final two drives of the contest, he completed five of seven attempts while accounting for 78 yards and a touchdown. In addition, he accounted for a key moment in the game late in the fourth quarter. On 2nd and 10 from the Arkansas State 45, he threw a 44-yard dime to Ben Putman to set up the go-ahead score and give new life to the Wolfpack.
Of course, Ty Gangi was only one half of that huge play. A walk on, Putnam accounted for the biggest play of his career to date. Coincidentally, it may have been one of the biggest plays of the year for Nevada. Fittingly, immediately ensuing the breakout performance, Nevada coaches rewarded Putnam with a full scholarship.
Walk-on receiver Ben Putman made a huge catch to set up Nevada’s win in the Arizona Bowl.
After the game, he was immediately put on scholarship. Awesome. pic.twitter.com/BAOJm0nyA5
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 30, 2018
Wolfpack Once Again Top Dog in Arizona
For the second time in four years, the Wolfpack find themselves champions of the Arizona Bowl to end the 2018 season. They finish on a high note with a final record of 8-5 (5-3). The Wolfpack have also, perhaps more importantly, consistently improved their win total over the last two seasons under Coach Jay Norvell. They have gone from three wins prior to Norvell’s tenure to seven in 2017 and now eight in 2018. Arkansas State ends the season on a stale note after winning eight straight, but will also finish the season with an 8-5 record. In the “Dances with Wolves Bowl”, the Red Wolves may have led the dance for much of the night, but it is the Wolfpack that dances into the New Year.