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SQ Capital One Orange Bowl Preview

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The homefield advantage might just give the Hurricanes the edge over Wisconsin in this year’s Capital One Orange Bowl.

Entering conference championship week, both the Wisconsin Badgers and Miami Hurricanes could have all but secured a spot in the College Football Playoff with a win. However, this was not the case. Wisconsin’s usual dominating rushing attack was stifled by Ohio State, dealing the Badgers their first loss of the season in the Big Ten Championship game. Miami got steamrolled by defending national champion Clemson in the ACC Championship game, stumbling into the postseason with back-to-back losses. These two Top-10 teams will clash on Dec. 30 at 8:00 ET and can be seen on ESPN.


Storylines Heading Into the Game

Shaky quarterback play - Inconsistency at the quarterback position kept both of these teams from reaching the elite category. For the Badgers, turnovers have plagued sophomore signal caller Alex Hornibrook all season long. Hornibrook turned the ball over in 11 of Wisconsin’s 13 games, racking up the fifth most interceptions in the nation (15). Luckily, he hasn’t been asked to do much this season thanks to freshman running back Jonathan Taylor bursting onto the scene in his first year. If Taylor can get back on track after a rough performance in the Big Ten Championship game, Hornibrook should be just fine.

On the other side, junior Malik Rosier has had his fair share of struggles, leaning on a defense that forced the third-most turnovers in the nation. Rosier has had five games where he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, and has also thrown 11 interceptions. He’s especially struggled as of late, resulting in back-to-back losses for Miami. He’ll have to shake off his recent slump for the Hurricanes to have a chance.

Points will be at a premium - This year’s Orange Bowl boasts two of the top defenses in the nation. Wisconsin has arguably the best defense in the nation, as they rank first in the nation in total defense and third in scoring defense. Miami’s defense is known for their “Turnover Chain,” which has helped generate 30 turnovers along with the second most sacks in the country with 43. With both of these stellar defenses as well as quarterbacks who have struggled mightily, expect a low-scoring, defensive battle.


MiamiWisconsin
Total Defense359.8 YPG (T-38th)253.2 YPG (1st)
Scoring Defense19.9 PPG (T-18th)13.2 PPG (3rd)
Sacks/Game3.58 (1st)3 (T-12th)
Tackles for Loss/Game8.8 (2nd)6.5 (47th)
Turnovers Gained30 (T-3rd)26 (T-11th)


Homefield advantage - Coincidentally, the Orange Bowl is played at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Hurricanes. This is a huge advantage for Miami, as this game will essentially be another home game for the Hurricanes. Miami has been stellar at Hard Rock Stadium this season, going 7-0 with two wins over ranked opponents. Wisconsin, on the other hand, will have to travel over 1,500 miles to play Miami in their backyard. In a game with equally skilled teams such as these two, the crowd just might give Miami the edge. Hard Rock Stadium will be packed with green and orange and should provide some energy for the Hurricanes.

Key Stats

13.2 - Wisconsin’s defense ranks near or at the top in almost every category. They’re led by their linebacker trio of Ryan Connelly, T.J. Edwards, and Leon Jacobs. The three have been causing havoc all season long, totaling 31 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and six interceptions. These three linebackers have been the driving force behind a defense that is giving up just 13.2 points per game.

+15 - Under second year head coach Mark Richt, Miami has gotten their swagger back that “The U” had in the early 2000s with a little help from their signature turnover chain. The chain has made 30 appearances this year, helping the Hurricanes to a +15 turnover margin, which ranks second best in the nation. With turnover-prone Hornibrook on the other side and Miami playing at home, where they have a +12 turnover margin in seven games, the turnover chain should make multiple appearances on Saturday night.

8.8 - Perhaps the most key matchup of this contest is Wisconsin’s offensive line versus Miami’s fierce front seven. The Badgers’ offensive line paved the way for freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who leads the Big Ten in rushing yards. The boys up front were rewarded for their success, as Wisconsin landed two offensive lineman on the AP All-America Team. They’ll get a tough test from Miami’s defense, which is averaging 8.8 tackles for loss per game and 3.58 sacks per game. This battle of elite units may be the most intriguing battle of this year’s Orange Bowl.

Key Players

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin - Taylor has burst onto the scene in his first year and is having one of the greatest freshman campaigns of all-time. The star back is currently fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 1,847, and has had nine games with at least 100 rushing yards. Taylor needs just 79 yards to break Adrian Peterson’s freshman rushing record of 1,925 yards set in 2004. Taylor leads the nation in yards after contact with 1,281 yards, showing that most of his yards are hard-earned. Coming off of his worst performance of the season in the Big Ten Championship game, Taylor will need to get back on track in order to keep the load off of Hornibrook’s shoulders.


Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami - Johnson brings the playmaking ability to a defense filled with terrific players and potential NFL talent. The junior safety leads the team in tackles (85), interceptions (4), and forced/recovered fumbles (2). Johnson leads the Miami defense by creating turnovers and dealing heavy hits. He’s also made plays on special teams, such as tackling punt returners and even blocking a field goal against Virginia Tech. Keeping Hornibrook’s turnover struggles in mind, Johnson just might be on the receiving end of one of Hornibrook’s passes. Keep your eyes on Johnson, and don’t be surprised if he makes a few big plays for the Miami defense.


Why Wisconsin Wins

Wisconsin’s defense should return to their usual dominance after giving up a season-high 27 points to Ohio State in their last game. Miami’s offense has been mediocre, ranking outside the top 50 in total offense and scoring offense. If Wisconsin can exploit this lopsided matchup, they’ll be in good shape to win their fourth consecutive bowl game. Also, Hornibrook needs to take care of the football against a dangerous Miami defense. If the turnover chain makes a few appearances and the crowd gets into the game, Wisconsin is in big trouble.

Why Miami Wins

Miami needs to jump on Wisconsin early and often. If they can score first and even generate a turnover in the opening quarter, they’ll get the crowd into the game and make life difficult for Wisconsin. As seen in the Big Ten Championship game, the key to stopping the Wisconsin offense is slowing down Jonathan Taylor. If Miami can bottle him up and force Hornibrook to throw 25 times or more, Miami’s playmaking secondary can feast against a quarterback that has struggled with interceptions all year. This will in turn set up Miami’s offense in better position, which will probably struggle to move the ball most of the night.

Prediction

On paper, this matchup seems to favor Wisconsin. Miami has struggled down the final stretch of the regular season, losing their last two games by a combined score of 62-17. If this game was on a neutral field, I’d take the Badgers. However, Hard Rock Stadium is such a hostile environment for opposing teams, and the Hurricanes feed off the energy that the green and orange faithful provide them. Miami will pick off Hornibrook a couple times in the first half, and the offense will do just enough to give Mark Richt his second bowl victory in as many seasons as Miami’s head coach.

Miami 24, Wisconsin 17

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

SQuiz
What year was the first Orange Bowl played?
Created 12/27/17
  1. 1925
  2. 1935
  3. 1940
  4. 1955

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