2023 Las Vegas
Bowl Page


Played December 23, 2023

Allegiant Stadium, Paradise, Nevada
Attendance: 20,897

Northwestern's 2023 regular season record: 7-5, 2nd in the Big Ten West

Final season record: 8-5

Coach: David Braun

2023 Captains: Bryce Gallagher, Coco Azema, Cam Porter, Josh Priebe, Charlie Mangieri

Opponent: Utah

NU / Utah series record prior to the bowl: NU led, 2-1

  1 2 3 4 F
NU 0 7 0
Utah 0 0 0 7 7


What a difference two months make. Northwestern came into the 2023 season seemingly in flames: four wins during the past two seasons, including a disastrous 1-11 campaign in 2022; a fired head coach who had been the face of the university, dumped in the midst of a humiliating and lurid scandal; a new coach who had never before been head coach at any level; and the threat of losing chunks of the team by the end of the season. However, at the end of the regular season the Wildcats had won seven games, including big victories over arch-rivals Wisconsin and Illinois. The team missed winning the final Big Ten West title by a mere 52-yard field goal by Iowa. And Coach David Braun was the Big Ten coach of the year and had saved the program.

NU arrived in Las Vegas a 6.5-point underdog to Utah. As with the rest of the season, however, the 'Cats were underestimated. NU's defense continued its spectacular turnaround under Braun, slamming the Utes' offense into the turf and picking off Utah's passes seemingly at will: Jaheem Joseph grabbed two interceptions in the first half alone. NU's defense held Utah to an anemic 138 yards rushing and a shocking 73 yards through the air. Utah managed just one touchdown in the fourth quarter-- the Utes' seven points represented the lowest opposing score ever in a Northwestern bowl game. The 'Cats sacked Bryson Barnes five times-- also a Northwestern bowl record.

Quarterback Ben Bryant carried the Wildcat offense, completing 23 of 34 passes for NU's two touchdowns and no interceptions, averaging 9.7 yards per completion. His first touchdown strike was to Cam Johnson, before Bryant was seemingly knocked out of the game. Later, however, Bryant returned and continued his assault, piling up 222 yards through the air.

Arguably, the highlight of the game was a sequence of plays spanning just 57 seconds of game time (from 7:17 to go in the fourth quarter through 6:20 to go). Utah, in NU territory and facing a fourth down with two yards to go, attempted to get the first down by running up the gut. The Wildcat defense stoned Jaylon Glover, stopping him dead at the line of scrimmage. Two plays later, Bryant found A.J. Henning for a stunning circus catch and a 34-yard pickup to the Utah 19. On the ensuing play, Bryant passed to Bryce Kirtz. Utah interfered with the catch, but no matter-- Kirtz still made the completion and, with it, the winning touchdown. It was one of the greatest minutes of Wildcat football this decade.

Bryant eludes the the Utah defense

Joseph reins in one of his two picks

Henning hauling in his 34-yard catch

NU vs. Utah Series

Utah came into Vegas with an 8-4 record, 5-4 in its final season with the Pac-12. The Utes had notched impressive victories over ranked UCLA and USC, and they played #5 Washington tough, dropping that game 35-28. All of Utah's four losses, in fact, were to ranked opponents.

The Series:

The Las Vegas Bowl was the fourth meeting between the schools.

First game: October 8, 1927 at Dyche Stadium. This was a bit of a novelty, playing a team from so far away at home. The highlight of the game: NU quarterback Gustafson fumbled, and Utah returned its recovery 40 yards for its lone touchdown. Thankfully, it wasn't enough. NORTHWESTERN 13, Utah 6

Second game: September 26, 1981 at Dyche Stadium. The less said about this game, the better. This was loss #23 of Northwestern's infamous, record-setting 34-game losing streak from 1979 to 1982. Utah scored three touchdowns in the second quarter seal the game. UTAH 42, Northwestern 0

Third game: December 31, 2018 in the Holiday Bowl. Just like this year, NU was an underdog to Utah in the 2018 Holiday Bowl, and the 'Cats initially took a beating, going into halftime down 20 to 3. However, NU put together a 28-0 third quarter, one of the best-played quarters of football by NU in the 21st century. It was NU's third straight bowl win, and it gave them a final spot of #21 in the 2018 season rankings. NORTHWESTERN 31, Utah 20