A road game for Wisconsin, especially with the New Year’s Six bowl game in Hard Rock Stadium where “The U” plays, the Badgers will need to contend with a dynamic team re-emerging as a national power under the guidance of head coach Mark Richt.
On offense, quarterback Malik Rosier has been up and down at times, but still threw for over 243 yards per game with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Not to mention, he has rushed for 427 yards and five touchdowns this season. Running back Travis Homer has gained 902 yards on six yards per carry with seven touchdowns, while wide receiver Braxton Berrios leads the team in receptions (52), receiving yards (634), and nine touchdowns through the air.
Defensively for the Canes, how much will we see the Turnover Chain on display? Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s unit leads the FBS in sacks (3.58 per game), ranks second in the nation in turnovers created (30), turnover margin (a positive 1.25, a plus-15), and tackles for loss (8.8). Miami ranks 17th in scoring defense (19.9 points per game) and 37th in total defense (359.8 yards), giving up 146.1 yards on the ground and 213.7 through the air.
Miami secured a 10-win season before a rough loss to Pitt and then the blowout loss to ACC champion Clemson. What has Mark Richt done to bring back the Hurricanes to the level they’re playing at now?
The main things Mark Richt has brought is stability and authenticity. Randy Shannon and Al Golden were on tenuous ground at best throughout their tenures at Miami, but Richt is a veteran coach with years of success to his credit. He wants to be here, and isn’t trying to figure out how to work at a big job. He knows what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. That is a MASSIVE change from the likes of Golden, who was never a fit for Miami. In that Richt has stated he wants to retire at Miami (multiple statements that this will be his last job), the Canes have a foundation they haven’t had for years.
The other side of that is authenticity. Previous coaches tried to change Miami and make the Canes fit some outside image that was in their head. Just look at what Golden did to Anthony Chickillo (taking a 265-pound DE and bulking him up to damn near 300 pounds and moving him to DT) for proof of that. Golden in particular tried to make Miami into Penn State South from a physical and gameplay standpoint ... and that was never going to work. Richt, however, is getting back to the roots of Miami’s program: speed all over the field’ a physical, attacking defense; and swagger, which you can classify however you want. It’s the change from the Jordan’s you get at the swap shop to authentic J’s you get from the SNKRS app. They might look the same, but the fake ones fall apart after two wears while the real ones fit right and have the right colors, and the craftsmanship is to a higher level. Such has been the change from Golden to Richt for Miami.
From an on-field standpoint, Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz let their players play to their strengths. Speed. Quickness. That was always the foundation of the Miami Hurricanes program in the past. So now, they’re letting that happen again on the field. No more passive, two-gap defense. More blitzes. More man coverage. More getting the ball to the playmakers on offense to let them run in space. It’s not rocket science: let the fast guys be fast, recruit big guys to be big, and draw up schemes to get skill players in 1v1 matchups, and coach them up to win those matchups.
How have injuries affected The U this year on both sides of the ball? Who’s out, who’s in for the Orange Bowl, and how can that influence the game?
Man, this is a good question. Injuries have played a major role on this team this year. Here’s the list of players who are out for the year with injuries:
- RB Mark Walton
- WR Ahmmon Richards
- TE Christopher Herndon IV
- WR Evidence Njoku
- DE Demetrius Jackson
- LB Charles Perry
- LB Jamie Gordinier
Walton was the starting RB. Richards is the best WR in the ACC. Herndon IV is an NFL player. Njoku was going to redshirt this year, but with injuries and a dismissal at WR, he could have added depth in practice. Gordinier and Perry were second-team LBs, so that hurt depth. And Jackson was a rotation player at DE and arguably Miami's best run defender, so that hurts, for sure.
For the offense, missing the No. 1 player at RB, WR, and TE hurts. Miami has the top-end talent among the starting group to compete with anyone, but has less-than-adequate depth behind it. Miami has had to rely on other players, namely Homer, who is nearing 1,000 yards on the year, and a collection of WRs and TEs to replace that trio, but it hasn’t been easy, especially against top competition. Miami has skill players who could replace Walton/Richards/Herndon IV, but they are not consistently excellent. But they are talented, and hopefully that talent shows up.
For the defense, nearly every contributor who has been available recently is healthy and ready to go. Miami’s has depth and talent at DL and LB, so covering up for Jackson and the backup LBs shouldn’t be too tough a task. More than the players on defense, I’m interested to see what scheme Diaz draws up to combat Wisconsin’s run-heavy offense.
Even with the injuries, Wisconsin will still have to contend with Rosier, Berrios, and Homer. What are the strengths of this Hurricanes offense?
The biggest strength of Miami’s offense is their explosiveness. Miami averages 6.20 yards per play, tied for 30th in the country. With speedsters like Homer, Berrios, freshmen Jeff Thomas, Mike Harley, and DeeJay Dallas, Miami can score from anywhere. On top of that, Miami has a variety of skill players who can make plays when you add in Lawrence Cager, Dayall Harris, Michael Irvin II, and Trayone Gray to the group I already mentioned. Even without Walton, Richards, and Hernron IV, Miami has talent at the skill positions.
Even with that being said, Miami will go as Rosier goes. He has been inferno-hot or arctic-cold this year, with no in-between. Rosier is good running and can be a factor by using his legs, but he can hurt the team with his decision-making and inability to hit open receivers. You mentioned it earlier, but just look at the Pittsburgh game for evidence of that. All the skill guys in the world, and all the open space in the world, mean nothing if the QB can’t hit them with the football. We’ll see if Good Malik or Bad Malik shows up on Saturday. If it’s Bad Malik to start, we’ll also see if he can change things up in the second half of the game, something he did on numerous occasions this season.
Miami’s defense can obviously generate turnovers. What have been the key ingredients in creating takeaways, and who could provide trouble for Wisconsin’s offense?
The first key to creating turnovers is pressure up front. Miami’s DL is one of the best in America, and they get after the QB. The next key is making plays when they’re available. Not dropping interceptions. Scooping up fumbles. Seizing the opportunities that appear during the game. The last key is luck. Turnovers have a huge luck component, and Miami has been lucky way more often than not this season.
In this game, Miami is going to probably employ a similar game plan to what was seen vs. Notre Dame: stack the box to stop the run, pressure the QB with blitzes and stunts, and force an average QB to make plays. If Wisconsin can block effectively and give Alex Hornibrook time, there may be plays to hit down the field (even if it’s a slant and run after the catch). Miami takes pride in stopping RBs, and has done so repeatedly this season. If Miami is able to keep Jonathan Taylor contained, the Canes should have the advantage versus Wisconsin’s passing game.
If you’re looking for names of players who could be trouble for Wisconsin’s offense, DTs R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton and DE Joe Jackson come to mind, as do LBs Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, and of course, superstar S Jaquan Johnson. Those are the leaders at each level of Miami’s defense, and for Miami to impact Wisconsin’s offense, those guys will need to play big. Also, keep an eye on Jonathan Garvin. He’s a freshman DE who is a pass-rushing specialist and has several strip sacks on the year. If 97 is on the field for a Wisconsin passing down, you’re going to want to give him your undivided attention. Trust me.
Where can Wisconsin exploit any weaknesses Miami has?
On offense, Wisconsin can use a quick passing game to combat Miami’s blitzes and zone schemes. Many teams with average QBs did so this year, so that’s an area to look at finding success. Also, outside runs have been more successful vs. Miami than inside runs (due to the pair of DTs Miami starts) so that could be an area to exploit as well.
On defense, crash the run. Miami isn’t a great run-blocking team, so if Wisconsin’s defense can defeat Miami’s zone-blocking scheme up front, that will force Miami to throw the ball, which can be a hit-or-miss proposition. And, in the passing game, do whatever you can to take away Rosier’s first read. If you do that, he panics, and bad things happen when he panics or isn’t able to comfortably hit his first passing read.
What are your keys to the game, and a score prediction?
This is going to sound cliché, but it's the truth: the keys to the game are stopping the run, running the ball, and being opportunistic when able to make a play. Obviously Miami is going to look to recapture some of the primetime magic from earlier in the season at Hard Rock Stadium, so that is a narrative key, but low on the totem pole of things that will likely impact this game.
And, before I give my prediction, we do a matchup of the week/keys to the game article every week, so you should check that out for a deeper look at this question.
For my prediction, there’s more that I like about Miami than Wisconsin, and I think the Canes make just enough plays to pull this one out.
Final Score: Miami 30, Wisconsin 24