Like the Wisconsin Badgers, the Miami Hurricanes held high aspirations as a preseason top 10 team but fell to a 7-5 record during the 2018 regular season.
Now both programs meet once again in a second consecutive bowl matchup—this time in New York. Of course last year in South Florida, Wisconsin came back from an 11-point deficit to ultimately defeat Miami in a 34-24 win in the Orange Bowl.
Wisconsin’s defense will face Malik Rosier as Miami’s starting quarterback on Thursday afternoon (4:15 p.m. CT, ESPN), which was announced by head coach Mark Right on Wednesday. However, the Hurricanes’ offense has struggled this season.
On the flip side, outgoing Miami defensive coordinator and Temple head coach Manny Diaz leads one of the best units in college football.
- Scoring offense: 30.9 points per game (51st in nation)
- Total offense: 374.6 yards per game (92nd in nation)
- Rush offense: 197.3 yards per game (43rd in nation)
- Pass offense: 177.3 yards per game (108th in nation)
- 3rd-down conversions: 41.6 percent (69-for-166 ... 48th in nation)
- Scoring defense: 18.2 points per game (15th in nation)
- Total defense: 268.3 yards per game (second in nation)
- Rush defense: 127.5 yards per game (24th in nation)
- Pass defense: 140.8 yards per game (first in nation)
- 3rd-down conversions: 23.7 percent (41-for-173 ... first in nation)
This is a bowl game of two teams who were top 10 programs heading into the season that ended with 7-5 records. From Miami’s perspective, what precisely happened?
This season was a comedy of errors. Apart from beating FSU for a second consecutive year (and THAT took a three TD comeback), it was an up and down year. Miami was ranked 8th in the preseason and got BLOWN OUT by LSU (most people probably turned the score off at 33-3 LSU in the third quarter). Malik Rosier had the worst regression I’ve ever seen, and Miami rotated QBs throughout the year, with both Rosier and N’Kosi Perry starting multiple games. Miami went on yet another losing streak. Ahmmon Richards had to retire due to career-ending neck injury, robbing Miami of a game-changing wide receiver. Jeff Thomas, Miami’s most explosive player who was filling the void left by Richards’ retirement, quit/was dismissed from the team and transferred. Every scholarship tight end was injured this year so the last game had no scholarship tight end available. The defense, Miami’s calling card, was top 3 nationally, but that was wasted because of Miami’s offensive struggles. And Miami set records in the wrong way, letting Duke win in SoFLA for the first time in 54 years, losing to Boston College and Virginia in primetime consecutively, and Mark Richt lost his first game EVER at Bobby Dodd Stadium—notable because Richt-coached teams have played Georgia Tech every year that he’s been a head coach.
So yeah. The highlight was beating FSU. But apart from that, it was a lot of bad this year.
We always ask about injuries and who may not play in this game. Who is out for the bowl matchup, who may be returning, and what could be the impact of that?
Ah yes, injuries. Miami has had so many injuries this year. SMH.
To your question, any scholarship tight end who plays will be returning to the field after an injury. Freshmen Brevin Jordan—the best freshman TE in the country—and Will Mallory were both injured late in the year, Jordan with a foot/ankle and Mallory with a knee. Neither had surgery so they could return. Redshirt sophomore tight end Michael Irvin II—yes, the son of the NFL Hall of Famer of the same name—missed the year with a knee injury but could make his debut in the bowl game.
Ahmmon Richards had to retire due to his chronic injury, and All-American (BUT NOT FIRST TEAM ALL-ACC BECAUSE THE VOTERS HATE MIAMI) defensive tackle Gerald Willis III is out for the bowl with a hand injury.
Of those injuries, the most impactful are Willis III and Jordan. Willis III is one of the 2-3 best DTs in America and his play at the center of Miami’s defensive line was integral to the defense’s success this year. Miami has no other player like him on the roster, so even with decent and talented replacements, this will be a big step down for Miami. Jordan is a multi-talented tight end who can line up in many places on offense. Without him, a freshman All-American, Miami has to go more spread—something Mark Richt openly abhors. So that would be an important absence as well.
Offensively, Miami—like Wisconsin—appears to have not gotten much done through the air statistically but has a solid running game. Who and what should Badgers fans watch for on Thursday afternoon?
Like I just said, without Jordan/Mallory/Irvin II, the Canes will be multiple with I-formation, shotgun one-back, and shotgun two-back formations. The run game is where Miami likes to start things. That’s been the case throughout Mark Richt’s tenure as a coach both at Georgia and here at Miami. That won’t change, regardless of personnel.
In the pass game, Wisconsin fans should watch the deep balls and “4 verts” routes. Miami also likes to throw bubble screens if given the right defensive look. RPOs are in the playbook as well but those have mainly been zone reads (give/keep in run game only) without the actual option to throw the ball off of it. So, if Malik Rosier pulls the ball on an RPO and then throws it? That will be a new wrinkle Miami hasn’t employed yet this season.
On the flip side, outgoing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has fielded one of the best units in college football in a variety of different categories. What stands out about this defense that makes it so dangerous, and who will Wisconsin have to contain?
The main thing about Miami’s defense is that it creates havoc and TFLs unlike any other unit in America. Miami’s havoc rate (24.7 percent) is first nationally. Miami’s TFLs (126) are first nationally. Miami’s sacks (37.0) are tied for 14th nationally. Miami is also second in total defense (268.3 yards per game) and third in yards per play allowed (4.16). So yeah, Miami specializes and excels at getting up the field on defense, and they’ll lock you down quickly if that doesn’t work.
The scheme is predicated on defensive line and linebackers shooting gaps and getting up the field, and Miami’s players have been exceptional at this, and also securing the TFL once in the backfield. This is the scheme that Wisconsin has to most urgently curtail and combat.
Additionally, and partly due to the havoc and disruption up front, Miami’s pass defense (140.8 yards per game) has been the best in America. Wisconsin will need to give Jack Coan time to throw, and the receivers will need to make plays when given the opportunity down the field—much as they did in the 2017 Orange Bowl between these teams.
Along the defensive line, the players to watch are defensive ends Joe Jackson and Jonathan Garvin. As I said before, missing Willis III is massive for the Canes, and they’ll have a number of guys try to fill in, but it will take a group to replicate Willis III’s performance and impact, if that’s even possible. The linebackers, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckey, are solid to great in the second level. STRIKER Romeo Finley has been a revelation at his new LB/S hybrid position. Defensive backs Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, and Trajan Bandy lead the way in the secondary. Those are the names to watch, and if any of them rotate out due to fatigue or simple rotation on defense, Wisconsin would be wise to attack the replacement player.
Where do you feel Miami will have an advantage against Wisconsin, but where could the Badgers also have opportunities to succeed against the Hurricanes?
Good question. I think this is a bad matchup for Miami.
I think that Miami has an advantage in the secondary vs Wisconsin’s receivers.
I think Wisconsin has an advantage with their offensive line vs Miami’s defensive line.
I think Wisconsin has an advantage with their defensive line/front seven vs Miami’s offensive line (one of the worst in CFB).
I think Wisconsin has an advantage with their run game vs Miami’s run D.
I think Wisconsin has an advantage with their secondary vs Miami’s receivers/passing game (especially so with Malik Rosier now back at the controls).
The way that Wisconsin can succeed against Miami is using their size to lean on and grind Miami in the run game. This is what the Badgers did in both previous bowl wins against Miami, and the dimensions of the teams up front remains largely unchanged. Combine that with some timely passing—and can we talk for a second about how Wisconsin’s wide receivers MADE EVERY SINGLE CONTESTED CATCH POSSIBLE LAST YEAR AGAINST MIAMI!?!?!? SHEEEEEESH—and that’s the formula for moving the ball down the field and putting points on the scoreboard.
What’s your game prediction?
I thought Miami could pull one out, but the move back to Malik Rosier removed that thought from my brain.
I’ve seen this movie twice before, and the third installment is going to be just like the first two.
Final Score: Wisconsin 27 Miami 13