MIAMI GARDENS – Miami simply wasn’t good enough Saturday.
A combination of turnovers, inefficiency on third downs, and a career-night by Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook ended up being Miami’s undoing as the No. 10 Hurricanes fell 34-24 to the No. 6 Badgers Saturday night in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium.
The near-capacity crowd of 65,032 – which was at least 70 percent Canes fans – saw the Hurricanes lose their third straight game to end the 2017 season. UM lost to unranked Pittsburgh in its regular-season finale; fell hard to defending national champion Clemson in the ACC Championship game; had its nine-game win streak in Hard Rock Stadium snapped by the Badgers Saturday.
Hornibrook, a redshirt sophomore, had his way with the Hurricanes secondary – completing 23 of his 34 passes for a season-high 258 yards and a season-high four touchdowns, including a 6-yard dart to Danny Davis with 7:44 left in the fourth quarter to put Wisconsin up 34-24.
Miami head coach Mark Richt, who participated in his first Orange Bowl as a head coach, didn’t want anyone to skew the perspective of what happened to the Canes Saturday night – and their final three games as a whole.
“I don’t think things snowballed,” Richt began when asked about his team going on an extended losing streak for the second straight year.
“We lost to Pitt, they did a great job against us without any doubt about that. If I’m not mistaken, Clemson is the defending national champion and is one of – if not – the best teams in America. And then [Wisconsin] won 12 games in a row and was one of the highest-rated teams in America. They’re a very good team and they came in and took care of business.”
“We don’t like losing, but we’re not ashamed of what happened…by any stretch,” Richt added.
Canes Postgame – Lose Orange Bowl 34-24 https://t.co/9QhVqN0w46
— J.T. Wilcox (@JTWilcoxSports) December 31, 2017
While Wisconsin (13-1) proved itself to be a powerful team, it’s not like Miami didn’t have its chances Saturday.
After the Badgers took a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter, UM flashed the prowess that had it on a 10-game win streak and ranked No. 2 in the nation at one point this season.
Miami got on the board after Travis Homer capped a 7-play, 75-yard drive with a 5-yard scamper and extended its lead not even three minutes later when freshman DeeJay Dallas took a direct snap 39 yards for a touchdown – putting the Hurricanes up 14-3 with 2:49 left in the first quarter.
Having gained all the momentum after forcing the Wisconsin offense into punts on back to back drives, Miami’s offense had the ball at the start of the second quarter.
But, instead of going on another methodical scoring drive, redshirt junior Malik Rosier threw an interception right into the hands of Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel – completing taking the wind out of the Canes’ sails.
That interception set the Badgers’ 21-point second-quarter run into motion and all but sank Miami’s hopes of winning its first Orange Bowl game since 2003.
Rosier gave credit to Wisconsin’s defense after the game.
“They did a really good job of making me throw balls in tight coverage,” Rosier said. “On the first interception, [Miami offensive lineman] Kc [McDermott] tried to cut [block] him but the defender did a good job of getting his hands up and it wound up hitting him.”
“They were fast, they were physical, and they just did a great job of making me throw low-percentage passes…so I have to take my cap off to those guys and they just made plays all day,” Rosier added.
Rosier’s play seemed to deteriorate Saturday and over the final few weeks of the season.
He was 11 of 26 passing Saturday for 203 yards with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager but three interceptions. That touchdown pass, which cut Miami’s deficit to 24-21 early in the third quarter, made Rosier UM’s all-time leader for total touchdowns in a season with 31 (26 passing and five rushing) – surpassing Vinny Testaverde’s record from the 1986 season.
While Miami had a player break a school record, Wisconsin – which won its first-ever trip to the Orange Bowl – had a player break an NCAA record Saturday, once again one-upping the Hurricanes.
Badgers freshman running back Jonathan Taylor broke former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson’s freshman rushing-yard record. Needing just 79 yards to overtake Peterson, Taylor reached the plateau during the second quarter on his way to running for a game-high 130 yards on 26 carries.
With his total Saturday, Taylor finished the season with 1,977 yards.
Badgers receiver A.J. Taylor caught a game-high eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown while freshman Danny Davis had just five receptions but three of them were touchdown passes.
Also, Wisconsin senior linebacker Leon Jacobs set a new NCAA record for career games played with 59 while senior safety Joe Ferguson earned the No. 2 spot by playing in his 58th career game.
Despite their late-season freefall, UM fans don’t have to look too hard to find the silver lining of the 2017 season.
Before the start of the 2017 season, most thought the Canes were still “a year or two away”. But the team caught lightning in a bottle, overcoming the adversity that came along with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma to win the first 10 games of the season – which included a dramatic win over rival Florida State and a rout of Notre Dame.
Richt said the 2017 season was a success.
“It was very successful in a lot of ways. I think our program is definitely moving in the direction we want it to move,” Richt said postgame. “We beat Florida State for the first time in a long time; we won the Coastal, which had never been done here. That was something we strived for and attained, so I guess we got past a landmark that we wanted to get past.”
“We’re hungry for more…and I could tell by looking in the eyes of our team that the guys coming back are going to be excited about taking it one step further next year,” Richt said.
The players coming back, which will include safety Jaquan Johnson but still unclear about players like junior defensive linemen RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton, will have the experience of taking Miami to a “New Year’s Six” Bowl game since the “NY6” began in 2014.
Miami’s early signing period recruiting class earned a top 10 ranking thanks to the incoming additions of five-star running back Lorenzo Lingard, national No.1 tight end Brevin Jordan and U.S. Army All-American quarterback Jarren Williams.
But Canes fans are most excited about the potential that lies within freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry. Perry earned a redshirt, not playing a snap this season, and should be in the thick of the quarterback competition come spring practice – whether Rosier returns or not.
— J.T. Wilcox (@JTWilcoxSports) December 31, 2017