Tuesday's college football: Holiday Bowl scrapped; Minnesota runs over West Virginia
San Diego — The Holiday Bowl became the fifth postseason college football game to be canceled when UCLA was forced to pull out just hours before Tuesday’s kickoff because of COVID-19 issues with the team.
The Bruins were scheduled to face No. 18 North Carolina State at Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres.
A surge in COVID-19 cases across the country has disrupted a second straight bowl season.
The Hawaii, Military, Fenway and Arizona bowls already have been canceled due to virus outbreaks leaving teams without enough available players. The Sun and Gator bowls have had to scramble to find replacement teams for their games, with Central Michigan shifting from the Arizona Bowl to the Sun Bowl, where it will take on Washington State.
North Carolina State is the fifth Atlantic Coast Conference team to have its bowl disrupted by the virus.
Miami, Virginia and Boston College all had to withdraw from their games. Wake Forest is set to play in the Gator Bowl, but will face Rutgers instead of Texas A&M as originally scheduled.
Coaches Dave Doeren of NC State and Chip Kelly of UCLA spoke Monday about tightening protocols to assure their game would be played. The cancellation has to have stung the Wolfpack, whose goal was to finish with double digit wins for just the second time.
“Prevention’s the best medicine right now,” Doeren said then. “Our guys have been through this. They understand how to follow protocols … to protect the mission. We’re here to try to win our 10th game. That’s happened one time in school history. There’s a lot at stake.”
UCLA’s football team is the fourth Bruins program sidelined due to COVID-19 issues, joining both basketball programs and gymnastics.
Petco Park had to be modified so a football field would fit. The Holiday Bowl needed a new home after 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium was razed to make room for San Diego State’s new stadium.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten became the latest conference to tweak its forfeit policy, joining the other Power 5 conferences, the Big East and most others. The Big Ten said games won’t automatically be forfeited if a team or teams are unable to participate due COVID-19. Instead, games can be rescheduled, declared a no contest or a forfeiture.
Tuesday's bowl games
► Minnesota 18, West Virginia 6, Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Ky Thomas ran for 144 yards and a touchdown, Mar’Kiese Irving added 129 yards rushing and Minnesota shut down West Virginia on defense in Phoenix.
Thomas and Irving became the Gophers’ 1-2 punch after Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts sustained season-ending injuries. The two running backs carried most of the load offensively against West Virginia (6-7), accounting for 273 of Minnesota’s 358 total yards.
The Gophers (9-4) overwhelmed the Mountaineers defensively, holding them to 206 total yards to win their fifth straight bowl game, third under coach P.J. Fleck.
It wasn’t much of a surprise. Minnesota finished fourth nationally in total defense, allowing 284.8 yards per game, and was ninth against the pass and run.
West Virginia was without leading rusher Leddie Brown, who opted to skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL, and struggled to find much of an offensive rhythm early against the swarming Gophers.
► Houston 17, Auburn 13, Birmingham Bowl: Jake Herslow caught a 26-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass from Clayton Tune with 3:27 left to help lift No. 21 Houston to a victory in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Cougars (12-2) marched 80 yards on eight plays to cap the third season in program history with at least 12 wins. They snapped a four-game bowl losing streak and won 12 of their final 13 games, the only loss coming to No. 4 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
The Tigers (6-7) went in the opposite direction in coach Bryan Harsin’s first season. They ended a season with five straight losses for the first time in 71 years and dropped their third bowl game in a row.
Game MVP Tune completed 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns with an interception while also rushing for 43 yards. Nathaniel Dell caught 10 passes for 150 yards, while Alton McCaskill ran for 66 yards and caught a touchdown pass.
► Air Force 31, Louisville 28, First Responders Bowl: Haaziq Daniels threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others as Air Force beat Louisville in Dallas.
Daniels completed 9 of 10 passes for a season-high 252 yards, leading a triple-option offense that came into the game averaging an FBS-best 340.8 rushing yards and the second-fewest passing yards at 82.5 per game.
Brandon Lewis had touchdown catches of 64 and 61 yards for the Falcons (10-3), finishing with five receptions for a career-high 172 yards. That’s the most receiving yardage for an Air Force player this season and the most ever in the Falcons’ 28 bowl games.
Matthew Dapore kicked a 26-yard field goal with 5:28 left to give the Falcons a two-score lead.
Malik Cunningham threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Harrell and ran for a 22-yard touchdown with 2:57 to play for Louisville (6-7). Jawhar Jordan returned a kickoff 100 yards and Trevion Cooley had a 1-yard run for the Cardinals’ other touchdowns.
Daniels ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give Air Force a 7-0 lead and a 1-yard score in the final minute of the second quarter to put the Falcons ahead 28-14.
►Texas Tech 34, Mississippi State 7, Liberty Bowl: Donovan Smith threw for 252 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score, and Texas Tech beat Mississippi State 34-7 in the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday night in Memphis, Tenn.
Tahj Brooks rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown and SaRodorick Thompson ran for 80 yards and a score for the Red Raiders (7-6), who finished with a winning record for the first time since 2015. They were appearing in their first bowl game since 2017.
Mississippi State (7-6) fell short in coach Mike Leach’s first game against a former program of his. Leach, who went 84-43 at Texas Tech from 2000-09, fell short in his bid to become the first Bulldogs coach to end each of his first two seasons with a bowl victory. Mississippi State was playing in its 12th straight bowl game.
Red Raiders interim head coach Sonny Cumbie, a former player at Texas Tech under Leach, ended his five-game run with a 2-3 record. Cumbie, who is departing to become Louisiana Tech’s coach, took over for Matt Wells in October.
Leach’s prolific offense never could get rolling against the Red Raiders and the resulting lopsided loss dropped the Southeastern Conference to 0-4 in the postseason. The Bulldogs were held scoreless in the second half and finished with 344 yards, 105 below their average.