Another year, another New Year’s Six bowl victory for the Wisconsin Badgers, who overcame an early 11-point first-quarter deficit to beat the Miami Hurricanes 34–24 in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Saturday.
Wisconsin’s aerial attack behind the arm of quarterback Alex Hornibrook and his receivers overcame an athletic Miami defense, while defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s unit calmed down after a rough start to force three turnovers and hold a Hurricanes offense that was averaging 405.5 yards per game to 377.
Our team of writers broke down what did and did not go well down in Hard Rock Stadium, and also shared their opinions of Wisconsin’s 2017 season.
The Good: Obviously, a lot went well for Wisconsin against Miami. What stood out most to you?
Owen Riese: Wisconsin’s defense was extremely opportunistic after falling behind 14–3 early, and the offensive line played just well enough to keep Hornibrook free to have the game of his still-young career. The team bent but didn’t break, a staple of its toughness.
Kevin O’Connell: Hornibrook was obviously outstanding, but wide receivers Danny Davis and A.J. Taylor made countless clutch catches in the game. Davis finished with three touchdowns while Taylor had eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. As great as Hornibrook played, it can’t be understated how talented this group of wide receivers is and how much more dynamic and balanced they make the offense. With Quintez Cephus set to return from injury as well, Wisconsin’s receiver core should be one of the team’s biggest strengths in 2018.
Ryan Mellenthin: The thing that stood out the most was Hornibrook. Through the first 13 games of the season, he threw 15 interceptions and Miami was a team that preyed on opposing quarterbacks all season. All signed pointed to Miami having the advantage, but instead, Hornibrook looked as poised as I have seen him in the pocket, throwing for 258 yards and four touchdowns—all coming on perfectly-thrown balls.
Bob Wiedenhoeft: Hornibrook had good pocket presence and read the defense quite well. He gave his young and talented wide receiving core plenty of opportunities to make plays while never giving Miami a chance to don necklaces. Other than that, “just watch the tape; you’ll see.”
Mark Richt lost his mind at the end of the first half. pic.twitter.com/CiGLl8ig5D— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 31, 2017
The Bad: It’s the last game of the year, so you can’t necessarily correct them. But what caused concern on Saturday night?
Owen: Jonathan Taylor fumbling on one of the first carries of the game after likely a month of focusing on holding onto the football. Granted, I don’t think it was actually a fumble, but don’t give the defense the chance. Taylor will have to dramatically improve on ball security in 2018.
Kevin: While I don’t think Wisconsin’s defense necessarily lacks speed, it does tend to give up a fair amount of chunk plays in games against top-flight athletes (i.e. Ohio State, Penn State, Miami). That will need to be cleaned up in 2018 if the Badgers are serious about winning a national championship in the near future. One other area of concern is the punting game. Anthony Lotti put the Badgers’ defense in some tough spots throughout the game with a handful of lackluster punts. Lotti will need to improve next season, especially in close games where the field-position battle is paramount.
Ryan: Once again, Wisconsin’s defense was susceptible to the long play, something that has doomed the Badgers in the past, allowing pass completions of 38 and 48 yards.
Bob: Wisconsin’s defense took a few bad angles early, and when combined with missed tackles, Miami found space and showed off its ability to put one foot in front of the other in rapid sequence. Granted, when the Badgers took better angles and the tackling was improved, Miami didn’t look quite as fast.
Game Balls: Tons of love to go around. Who gets them?
Owen: Hornibrook, the entire wide receiver room, Ryan Connelly, and Andrew Van Ginkel. There were a lot of bright spots in the Badgers’ most decisive bowl win under Paul Chryst. Turnover Chain ... well, you know.
Kevin: It’s got to be Hornibrook. He was sensational against the Hurricanes and silenced many of his doubters, including myself. This game could be a turning point for Hornibrook’s career in Madison. Despite some shaky moments in his first two seasons, the redshirt sophomore displayed a confidence in the pocket we have yet to see and made difficult throws look easy in Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl win.
Ryan: It’s hard to pick anyone other than the Orange Bowl MVP, Hornibrook. However, young receivers Kendric Pryor, Taylor, and Danny “Three-TD” Davis all played extremely well and even garnered praise from Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
Wisconsin Got A Special Group Of WRs Over There..— Jarvis Juice Landry (@God_Son80) December 31, 2017
Defensively, Van Ginkel stole the show and seemed to be everywhere the ball was and made one of the more heads-up plays I have seen in a while when he took down Malik Rosier and moved his hands last-second to avoid a horse-collar penalty.
Bob: If the senior class could win the “Team MVP” honor, then I feel I can hand out a game ball to each senior as well. Without their leadership, there’s no way these younger players contribute the way they did in critical moments. It’s fitting that Jack Cichy should earn a game ball; he served as a quasi-assistant coach who helped refocus the team after a dreadful 14–3 first-quarter deficit.
Also, my 14th and 15th game balls go to Chryst and Keldric Preston for inspiring two viral GIFs at the end of the game.
Later this week, we’ll dive into more of a season breakdown/retrospective, but right now, how will you remember this 2017 team?
Owen: The team that ALMOST made it over the hump. This team had one blemish by sox points against its toughest opponent that kept it out of the playoffs. The program is headed in the right direction, folks.
Kevin: I’ll remember this Wisconsin team as the one that finally gained some much-deserved national respect. Hopefully the “not enough speed,” “no vertical threats” narratives can be put to rest after the Badgers’ recent run of sustained success. Notching a win over a traditional power like Miami was just the cherry on top for a season that finally saw the Badgers firmly in the national championship picture.
Ryan: I will remember this team as a team on the rise. It’s clear that under the leadership of the unflappable (unless he’s talking about the turnover chain) Chryst, this team is heading in the right direction, toward being in the conversation for the College Football Playoff on a yearly occurrence. It’s also becoming a team that CAN beat the teams that most people wouldn’t have given them a chance against in the past. I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens next.
Bob: They just won two straight New Year’s Six bowls and their second straight top-10 finish. There’s a good chance I remember this team cementing the Chryst era as a legitimate national power. I am definitely going to remember a team that was incredibly tough and perhaps began changing the image of Wisconsin skill players. The defensive backs did a great job all year playing the ball, and it was the first time I expected wideouts to consistently make tough catches in tight coverage. Perhaps we will look back at this year and say Hornibrook developed into a top-four Big Ten quarterback in spite of many growing pains.