LSU will likely face it’s highest-rated season opener since the 2011 Oregon matchup when they head back to AT&T Stadium to take on what will probably be a top-10 Miami Hurricanes squad.
Miami will return 15 starters from a team that was as hot as any for the first 10 games of 2017, but closed things out with an ugly three-game losing streak, capped by a 34-24 loss to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
On that note, it seemed like a good idea to get some background info on the ‘Canes from that Orange Bowl perspective, via Jake Kocorowski, of our friends at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter.
1. Well, Miami was a favorite, playing at home, and Wisconsin was able to take control and pull away in the fourth quarter. What happened, exactly?
It was really the second quarter where everything turned around for Wisconsin. Miami was up 14-3 until outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel diagnosed a cut block from the tackle, eluded it, then came down with an interception off a bubble screen in Hurricanes territory. That was the spark the team needed after being thrashed early by Miami’s offense in the first quarter (148 yards given up, 9.9 yards per play), reeling off 21 straight points to take the lead (and eventually hold on for the win). The key to that, and you note it below in your next question, was the passing attack. Alex Hornibrook, who came into the game throwing 15 interceptions, did not complete a pass to the opposite team and earned the game’s MVP honors by throwing for 258 yards and four touchdowns.
To their credit, Miami didn’t back down, closing the gap to 24-21 in the third quarter after botched coverage on a scramble by Rosier that turned into a touchdown pass. Yet Wisconsin would seemingly answer the call when challenged during those final two quarters. Mark Richt’s squad pushed down the field and looked to either tie or take the lead in the game during that quarter, but an interception by Derrick Tindal thwarted that effort--which then led to a field goal for the Badgers. Miami gets a field goal to make it 27-24, Wisconsin answers right back with a touchdown drive to extend the lead to 10 again in the fourth quarter.
The defense bent but didn’t break in the second half, as in the fourth frame Miami drove down to get that previously mentioned field goal but also had a nice drive, going 69 yards to put themselves in great position for more points. That narrative displayed itself when the Badgers’ defense held the Hurricanes without a touchdown that series, with Miami’s placekicker stoinking a field goal off the right post.
2. Alex Hornibrook was fairly inconsistent in 2017, but absolutely ripped up what had been a very good Miami secondary. What worked so well for he and the Badger receivers?
First off, Hornibrook did not turn the ball over (Wisconsin turned over the ball just once on the evening in its first drive on a Jonathan Taylor fumble). Second, he trusted his receivers to make plays. I had to rewatch the game, since it seems like forever ago that they played, but the first and second touchdown passes were throws where the cornerbacks really didn’t even have a chance to turn around and make a play for the ball. Danny Davis, who caught three of the four touchdown tosses that game, has the ability to reel in 50-50 balls seamlessly. The true freshman made the contested catch on the back shoulder and took it in from there. A.J. Taylor’s touchdown reception, a one-handed grab that he locked into his body, was another example of making a throw where only the receiver could make a play.
Hornibrook also found his fullback, Austin Ramesh, for a few receptions (including where he hurdled a Miami defender), but 15 of his 23 completions were to his wide receivers. Miami picked their poison in trying to stop the run, and the southpaw rose up and gashed them through the air.
3. Likewise, solid running success against a strong Miami front. Was that just a case of the Wisconsin line doing what it usually does or was there a particular tactic that worked for them?
From what I saw in the boxscore, Taylor gained more than 10 yards only four times yet averaged five yards per rush, so it was a consistent effort really. Watching the runs again, I don’t know if anything stood out. There was a draw play that got a huge chunk of yardage with Wisconsin appearing to take advantage of the Miami pass rush. To me, it felt like a Wisconsin rushing attack when they needed it to use it, but that passing game really took the attack to the next level.
It should be noted as well, and it’s something head coach Paul Chryst says, that every year is a completely new team, so situations may change for 2018. Gone are three defensive linemen who played against Wisconsin in Chad Thomas, Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh (all NFL draft picks for that matter), so it will be interesting to see how Miami reloads on their line.
4. Malik Rozier gave the Badgers three interceptions. What was the Wisconsin defense able to do to put themselves in strong positions?
The first interception by Van Ginkel was just great instincts on reading the cut block and getting his hands up to make a play off a screen. The redshirt senior will be one of Wisconsin’s best defensive players this season alongside inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. Honestly, Van Ginkel as a great chance to continue the trend of having Wisconsin outside linebackers drafted to the NFL for the fourth straight season.
Rosier appeared to underthrow a bit on the second interception, and Tindal picked it off underneath (though video replay does show he held a bit on the receiver’s jersey). The last interception was by Connelly on Miami’s final drive to seal the win.
It wasn’t easy sailing at all, as Miami racked up some huge yardage in the first quarter thanks to its speed and dual-threat signal caller while also making some big plays in the second half. However, Jim Leonhard’s defense really knows how to adapt when needed. Van Ginkel played huge, also recording a sack in the game (one of three sacks for the day for Wisconsin). Most of the time, the defense--senior-heavy and keeping to their assignments--kept the Hurricane attack contained enough to withhold further points.