The 27th edition of the Las Vegas bowl saw the Fresno State Bulldogs complete their best season in school history with a win over the Arizona State Sun Devils 31-20. This was a hard fought battle into the fourth quarter. Finally, the bulldogs were able to pull away and get the victory behind their running game and stout defensive play.
2018 Las Vegas Bowl Game Recap
Fresno State utilized an early defensive touchdown to jump out to an early double digit lead. Arizona State would then grind their way back into the game behind star running back Eno Benjamin, taking a 20-17 lead deep into the third quarter. Not to be denied, Fresno State took the lead with a long 68 yard touchdown run from Ronnie Rivers. Rivers would then cap off another late touchdown drive with his second score of the day to seal the win for the Bulldogs.
Fresno State’s ability to generate big plays proved to be a largely deciding factor in this contest. Midway through the first quarter, Fresno State cornerback Anthoula Kelly jumped a short pass from Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins. He would then weave his way around and through a myriad of Sun Devils before finally finding the end zone amidst a pack of Bulldogs.
70-YARD PICK SIX
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 15, 2018
Later in the game, Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers pulled off a huge play of his own. Trailing by three with just over a minute in the third quarter, he took a simple inside zone handoff and scampered for a 68-yard touchdown. That score would prove to be the difference in the game. Rivers hit the hole quick and simply outran the defenders to the end zone.
The 2018 MVP, Ronnie Rivers ?
Here is his first touchdown of the game ?
— Fresno State Football (@FresnoStateFB) December 16, 2018
In addition to his game winning touchdown run above, Ronnie Rivers had a career day with 212 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. In total, he accounted for 286 all purpose yards and was appropriately named the Las Vegas Bowl MVP.
At the end of the half, Rivers had only 53 yards on 9 carries. At this time, Fresno State’s offense was seeming to struggle to put points on the board. They only accounted for 10 points in the first half. Credit the Fresno State coaching staff for identifying the mismatch and riding the hot hand in the second stanza. Rivers’ 212 yards was enough for the second most rushing yards in Las Vegas Bowl History.
Breaking (Records) Benjamin
Coming into the contest, we had discussed Benjamin’s proximity to the single season rushing record for Arizona State. Sun Devils Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin was a mere 42 yards from the current record holder Woody Green.
While his team fell short in the contest, it was not due to Benjamin’s lack of production. Benjamin rewrote the Arizona State record books after a 118 yard performance in Vegas. The star running back may have been overshadowed by Rivers’ career game, but he has cemented himself among the best backs in Sun Devil history. His final stat line was a commendable 23 carries for 118 yards and one touchdown. With the Sun devil’s passing game suffering from the absence of elite WR N’keal Harry, the offense became one dimensional, relying too much on the legs of Benjamin. In the end, it proved to be too much for one back to overcome. Still, Benjamin’s record setting performance should not be forgotten. The Sun Devil faithful should be thankful the talented back is only a sophomore.
A Dozen for Fresno State
Fresno State had seen several chances to eclipse the 12 win mark elude their grasp since the turn of the century. Finally, they were able to finish off the season as Mountain West Champions and win their bowl game. The win in the Nevada desert gave the Bulldogs their program record 12th win of the season. They finish with a final record of 12-2.
The juniors and seniors on this Bulldogs squad have set the foundation for the future of the program. From 1-11 just two years ago to the single best season in Fresno State history and a potential top-15 final ranking. The turnaround engineered by these players and Bulldog’s coach and alumnus Jeff Tedford has been nothing short of admirable. With an influx of young talent led by Rivers, expect the bulldogs to be heavily in the mix for the Mountain West in 2019.