The Offerpad Arizona Bowl, in its short five-year history, has seen games come down to the wire, with three out of five games going to the last possession.
An average point differential from all five games of 11.8 has helped this bowl game grow through the years.
Thursday’s game was anything but close as Ball State jumped all over No. 22 San Jose State in the first quarter, taking a quick 27-0 lead, led by the defense that got the scoring started with a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive back Antonio Phillips.
The early momentum led to a 34-13 rout of the Spartans in front of no fans at Arizona Stadium because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The victory is the first bowl win in Ball State history in 10 tries for the Cardinals, who finished their season 7-1.
San Jose State (7-1) was behind the 8-ball before the game started.
Eight coaches and players were not available for undisclosed reasons. A few minutes before kickoff, the school announced offensive and defensive coordinators – Kevin McGiven and Derrick Odum, respectively – and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Cade Hall, a defensive end, were unavailable.
Also not in Arizona Stadium were receiver Bailey Gaither, running back/kickoff returner Shamar Garrett, safety Tre Jenkins and starting offensive linemen Kyle Hoppe and Tyler Stevens.
San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, a candidate for Arizona’s coaching vacancy that was filled by Jedd Fisch, did not offer an explanation for the unavailability of the coaches and players.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of disappointment in our locker room right now with our players and our coaching staff,” Brennan said. “We just let them get out too far and we couldn’t make it up.”
San Jose State lost a sixth starter on the first offensive snap when tight end Derrick Deese Jr. landed on his head after catching a short pass. He spent time in the medical tent before walking back to the locker room while holding his neck. He was out of uniform when he returned to the sidelines in the second quarter.
Ball State’s defense swarmed all over the field, holding the Spartans to 69 yards rushing, and creating havoc in the secondary, forcing an Arizona Bowl-record five interceptions. The Cardinals allowed only 347 total yards.
The Cardinals’ offense spread the ball around as seven different receivers touched the ball for a collective 217 yards. Drew Plitt found wideout Tyler Yo’Heinz four times for 103 yards and a touchdown.
The ground game was led by Will Jones and Donny Marcus, who combined for 158 of the team’s 185 rushing yards. The Cardinals scored three rushing touchdowns in the game from three different players, exhibiting the depth of Ball State’s rushing game.
Here’s Ball State senior defensive back Bryce Cosby, who had two interceptions and led the team in tackles, talking about what this win means to him and the program:
Since 2014 the Cardinals have tried to get back to the postseason finding little success going 18-32 in that span.
The Arizona Bowl victory for Ball State means plenty for coach Mike Neu. Here’s Neu talking about what the win means to him and how it can be a launching point for this program:
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Troy Hutchison hails from Tucson and is a lifelong Arizona Wildcats follower. He has been involved in sports journalism over the last two years while taking communications courses at Pima Community College.