No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1) plays No. 11 Miami (10-2) in the Orange Bowl at 7 p.m. CT Saturday in Miami. The Badgers can finish their season with 13 victories for the first time in program history.
Four weeks ago, Wisconsin was preparing for arguably the most significant game in the history of the program against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. A victory would have sent the Badgers to the College Football Playoff for the first time. The Badgers can still cap off a special season if they approach their bowl game the right way.
Here are three keys to the Miami game for Wisconsin, as well as a final score prediction.
1. Give QB Alex Hornibrook enough time to pass
Miami leads the FBS in sacks per game at 3.58. Eleven different players have recorded at least 2 sacks for the Hurricanes. Alex Hornibrook struggles when he can’t set his feet and has to move out of the pocket. This figures to be one of the toughest challenges of the season for Wisconsin’s offensive line — right up there with Ohio State.
“All of them are athletic, fast, very physical, especially the linebackers,” Badgers left tackle Michael Deiter told reporters this week. “They don’t think twice about what they see. They go attack, and they play the game the right way. But the only reason they can get pressure is because they’re athletic. They have good technique. All that stuff. … Their whole defensive front can really get after the passer. But they’re also stout in the run, very physical, all that stuff. It’ll be fun.”
2. Contain the edges on Miami QB Malik Rosier
Malik Rosier has had an excellent season, throwing for 2,917 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But he also has shown that he can run the ball, amassing 427 yards rushing with 5 touchdowns. Wisconsin sometimes struggles with dual-threat quarterbacks, and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is the latest example. Anything Wisconsin’s defense can do to take away Miami’s strengths will help the Badgers in the Orange Bowl.
“Obviously having a dual-threat quarterback is challenging because you have to account for him in the run game, and that’s just another person that you have to make sure that you have your eyes on,” Badgers outside linebacker Garret Dooley told reporters. “As defenders we have to make sure that we know our jobs and have our keys. If you’re rushing the passer, you have to be aware that he can escape and he can take off for 15, 20 yards, so that’s just kind of something where we have to try to keep him in the pocket and not let him get loose.”
3. Don’t let Miami celebrate with the turnover chain
Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz whipped his group into a frenzy this season by introducing the “turnover chain.” It’s a 10-karat gold chain that players wear, obviously, after forcing a turnover. Few teams have been better in that area this season. Miami has forced 30 turnovers, which ranks tied for second in the FBS. Wisconsin has uncharacteristically committed 23 turnovers this season, which ranks tied for 105th in the FBS. As usual, a turnover-free game will go a long way for Wisconsin.
“I think it’s cool, honestly,” Deiter said. “I think it is something that you should glorify. I think turnovers are a big deal. For a defense, that changes games. So to put that kind of weight on it and all that, a high percentage of turnovers, I don’t know if I’d call it necessary, but there’s definitely some merit to putting hype around turnovers and the way that that can turn, change games.”
Much like the Ohio State game, the Orange Bowl feels like a bit of a coin flip to me. Motivation during a bowl game is often a topic of conversation, and one has to wonder if the Hurricanes are all that thrilled about staying home for the postseason. Wisconsin players needed a week or so to move on from the disappointment of the Big Ten title game loss to Ohio State, but a matchup against Miami in a warm-weather destination on a huge stage is a nice consolation prize.
Wisconsin can win 13 games for the first time in program history and prove the Badgers were better than some people wanted to give them credit for this season. Paul Chryst always has his team prepared for bowl games, and he will again on Saturday night. Wisconsin 28, Miami 24.
Game 1 prediction: Wisconsin 48, Utah State 7; Game 1 score: Wisconsin 59, Utah State 10
Game 2 prediction: Wisconsin 52, Florida Atlantic 10; Game 2 score: Wisconsin 31, Florida Atlantic 14
Game 3 prediction: Wisconsin 27, BYU 10; Game 3 score: Wisconsin 40, BYU 6
Game 4 prediction: Wisconsin 34, Northwestern 13; Game 4 score: Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 24
Game 5 prediction: Wisconsin 21, Nebraska 17; Game 5 score: Wisconsin 38, Nebraska 17
Game 6 prediction: Wisconsin 31, Purdue 14; Game 6 score: Wisconsin 17, Purdue 9
Game 7 prediction: Wisconsin 38, Maryland 17; Game 7 score: Wisconsin 38, Maryland 13
Game 8 prediction: Wisconsin 42, Illinois 10; Game 8 score: Wisconsin 24, Illinois 10
Game 9 prediction: Wisconsin 35, Indiana 17; Game 9 score: Wisconsin 45, Indiana 17
Game 10 prediction: Wisconsin 21, Iowa 17; Game 10 score: Wisconsin 38, Iowa 14
Game 11 prediction: Wisconsin 20, Michigan 14; Game 11 score: Wisconsin 24, Michigan 10
Game 12 prediction: Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 10; Game 12 score: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 0
Game 13 prediction: Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 24; Game 13 score: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 21