Wednesday's college football: Wisconsin wins Duke's Mayo Bowl, breaks trophy

Associated Press

Charlotte, N.C. — The Wisconsin Badgers captured the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and the trophy that came along with it.

And then they broke it.

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz celebrates after defeating Wake Forest in the Duke's Mayo Bowl.

While dancing around to celebrate his team’s 42-28 victory over Wake Forest on Wednesday, quarterback Graham Mertz dropped the football-shaped piece of Lenox crystal, leaving it shattered on the floor of the locker room after it fell off its base.

“We just wanted everybody to have a piece of that trophy,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst joked.

That would seem appropriate.

Mertz accounted for three touchdowns and Wisconsin turned four second-half interceptions, all by different players, into 21 points to turn a close game into a near-rout of the Demon Deacons. Five players scored touchdowns for the Badgers.

Mertz, a redshirt freshman, threw for 130 yards and ran for two short TDs as Wisconsin (4-3) finished a rocky 2020 season on a high note.

“Yeah, I dropped it,” Mertz said sheepishly. “That’s on me. It happened.”

The Badgers might be willing to forgive him.

With the game tied at 21 late in the third quarter, Noah Burks intercepted Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman on a pass in the flat when the intended receiver failed to turn his head around. Burks returned the ball 41 yards to set up a 14-yard scoring strike from Mertz to Mason Stokke on a wheel route, giving the Badgers their first lead.

Hartman, who had thrown only one interception all season, was picked off on the next three possessions as well.

Scott Nelson had a 60-yard interception return and Collin Wilder returned a pick 72 yards to set up short TD runs that gave the Badgers a 42-21 lead, resulting in Hartman getting benched. Jack Sanborn had 11 tackles and an interception and was named MVP of the game.

“It felt like one led to the other,” Sanborn said. “After three picks, we said, ‘Collin you have to get one’ — and then Collin went and got one.”

Sanborn said the Badgers picked up on some of Hartman’s tendencies.

“Throughout the game, similar concepts coming up,” Sanborn said. “We kind of knew where he wanted to throw the ball. He was making throws early in the game. But we got a tell on where he wanted to go with the ball.”

Hartman finished 20 of 37 passing for 318 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.

Extra points

South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski is transferring after two up-and-down seasons with the Gamecocks.

Hilinski is the younger brother of Tyler Hilinski, the former Washington State quarterback who killed himself in January 2018.

Hilinski said on social media Wednesday that leaving is the hardest decision he’s had to make, but entered the NCAA transfer portal to play elsewhere “and fulfill the promise I made to myself and my brother.”

Hilinski played almost immediately as a freshman, pressed into action when South Carolina starter Jake Bentley was lost to a season-ending injury in the opening game.

Hilinski threw for 2,357 yards with 11 yards and five touchdowns as South Carolina finished 4-8.

... Southern California safety Talanoa Hufanga is headed to the NFL after a standout junior season.

Hufanga was a first-team AP All-American and the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year this season for the No. 21 Trojans (5-1). He led USC with 62 tackles and four interceptions while adding three sacks, 5½ tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

... Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell is The Associated Press college football coach of the year after leading the Chanticleers to a surprising, near-perfect season.

Chadwell received 16 first-place votes and 88 points from the AP Top 25 panel to finish ahead of Indiana’s Tom Allen, who was second with 14 first-place votes and 66 points. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell was third (5, 44) and Alabama’s Nick Saban was fourth (8, 42).

Cotton Bowl

Oklahoma 55, Florida 20: Florida quarterback Kyle Trask clenched his fists in frustration and yelled at himself as he trudged dejectedly to the Gators’ sideline.

Following Trask’s third straight, drive-ending interception to open the Cotton Bowl, his record-setting run this season had hit a wall Wednesday night at AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas. The Gators soon would following a 55-20 beatdown by Oklahoma.

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley stands surrounded by his team as he holds up the trophy following their 55-20 win against Florida in the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020.

With more than two dozen family members on hand in his home state, but several of his top playmakers back in Florida, Trask’s storybook rise to the top of the sport would not have a happy ending. It was more like a nightmare for the 22-year-old.

Trask’s struggles, including a pick-six on the second drive, allowed the No. 6 Sooners (9-2) to stake a 17-0 lead during the opening seven minutes and ultimately cruise to their seventh straight win.

The Gators (8-4) rallied briefly behind backup QB Emory Jones to cut the lead to 17-13. But UF failed to cash in on its first-half red-zone opportunities – scoring six points on three trips inside the Oklahoma 20 – and once again suffered too many second-half defensive breakdowns.

A once-promising season ended with the Gators’ first three-game losing streak under third-year coach Dan Mullen.

A Florida win seemed unlikely without six starters from last week’s narrow SEC title game loss to top-ranked Alabama. Oklahoma was an eight-point favorite by kickoff after UF opened as a three-point favorite 10 days earlier.

No one, though, could have predicted Trask’s stunning no-show in Arlington, Texas. Less than a week after Trask was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top individual award, the Gators were quickly reminded football is a team sport.

Florida was no match for a fellow college football blueblood with so many key players focusing on their NFL futures.

But unlike All-America pass catchers Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney and the other half dozen starters who did not suit up, Trask – who had waited seven years dating to his high school days as a backup to finally get his chance to start – did not pass up a chance to play.

The native of Houston was not going to miss his final game at UF, even though he had nothing left to prove. Lining up with less experienced replacements at receiver, Trask’s timing and chemistry were off from the start, culminating with his worst performance as a Gator.

The redshirt senior finished 16-of-28 passing for a season-low 158 yards and no touchdowns after throwing at least two every game this season en route to a school-record 43. Trask’s three interceptions equaled his total during the season’s first nine games, when the 8-1 Gators had designs on a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

The one time the Gators’ offense ran smoothly at all Wednesday night, Jones was on the field with fellow backups he had worked with all season.

Jones’ familiarity with his supporting cast came in handy during a 16-play scoring drive to cut Oklahoma’s lead to 17-10. Following a fumble by tailback Rhamonde Stevenson in Sooners territory, the Gators settled for a 35-yard field goal from Evan McPherson after two straight incompletions and a sack of Trask.

The Sooners struck back with touchdowns on their next two drives behind quarterback Spencer Rattler. The freshman star first threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Theo Wease, who weaved through a sea of would-be tacklers. Rattler then accounted for 43 of OU’s 60 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run, to give his team a comfortable 31-13 halftime lead.

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s team continued to pile on during the second half, ending the night with 684 yards and the most points against the Gators since their 62-24 loss to Nebraska in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl.

A national championship was at stake that night in the Arizona desert.

Not long ago, the Gators were upbeat entering the 2020 season and hoped to earn a shot at winning the school’s fourth national title.

Instead, Mullen’s squad enters the offseason with a lot of work to do in order to get back into the national title conversation.