Miami’s bounceback season got pushed back into the Hurricanes’ faces Saturday night.
Three straight losses is no way to finish a monster run, even if the last of them comes in the Orange Bowl and against the No. 6 team in the nation, Wisconsin.
Clanging a field goal off the upright from 24 yards is no way to preserve an undefeated record at Hard Rock Stadium, even if that Michael Badgley kick could only have pulled Miami within a touchdown with 4:34 to play.
There just wasn’t enough energy, physical or psychological, to stop the 13-1 Badgers from winning 34-24.
Difficult to remember in the contrail of Wisconsin’s comeback that the Badgers really did seem to be in real trouble after one quarter. The Hurricanes led 14-3 at that point, pouncing like they did on Notre Dame in November.
Then, however, came 21 unanswered points on three scoring passes by Orange Bowl MVP Alex Hornibrook. That sudden touchdown shower was more than enough to overcome a single rattle of Miami’s Turnover Chain, a fumble recovery that came before the game was two minutes old and did not lead to any points.
There were all kinds of big plays after that, including a 38-yard touchdown pass from Miami’s Malik Rosier to Lawrence Cager, but a volcanic meltdown by coach Mark Richt, an uncommonly controlled man in most circumstances, said as much about what was coming as anything else.
“I didn’t coach good enough and we will get better, I can promise you,” said Richt, who was hit for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for vehemently protesting a missed holding call on Wisconsin’s offensive line. “I know I lost my cool.”
Has he lost his momentum now that a 10-0 Hurricanes start to the season has sagged finally to 10-3? Not hardly, though the fall from No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings in November to somewhere outside the final Top 10 is a letdown.
“We know we’re hungry for more,” Richt said.
They’ll need an appetite for the weight room in the offseason, and a fresh drive to plug incoming freshman into important roles, even if that forces some returning veterans to step aside.
Clemson manhandled the Hurricanes 38-3 in the ACC title game. Next Wisconsin, which did not earn a spot in the College Football Playoff field, amassed nearly 40 minutes of possession time to push the Big Ten’s 2017 bowl record to 7-0. That’s more than just talk. That’s the kind of muscle and maturity that the college game’s heavyweights consistently bring to New Year’s weekend.
Part of what Miami needs is a better quarterback. Rosier’s three interceptions would have been sad on any night, but measured against the four touchdown passes of Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook, the Orange Bowl MVP, they were downright depressing.
“There’s multiple occasions where they made great plays, multiple occasions where I missed receivers,” said Rosier, who in 2018 will face multiple challenges from N’Kosi Perry and incoming freshman Jarren Williams and possibly others.
Hornibrook, the supposed weak link in Wisconsin’s offense, did what Rosier couldn’t on Saturday night. The 6-foot-4 lefty completed 23 of 34 passes for a career-best 258 yards and four touchdowns. And he did all that despite waiting until 10 minutes remained in the game to complete a pass to second-team All America tight end Troy Fumagalli.
“They played a lot of man coverage and our guys were winning all their matchups, so it wasn’t too hard for me,” Hornibrook said.
That hurts, but at least the Hurricanes won’t be looking at the game film for a while. There is plenty in there to remind them much must still be done to take home some of the heaviest hardware.
That old argument about South Florida speed being superior to the best of any other region took a major hit, for instance, in the midst of Wisconsin’s second-quarter stampede. That’s when Badgers fullback Austin Ramesh gave us a little taste of the lesser-known Land O’Lakes leap.
His hurdle over Miami cornerback Dee Delaney was like the cow jumping over the moon, since Ramesh is listed at 255 pounds, and it will be a fairy tale told to little Badgers for generations.
Miami’s retelling of this night will be a short story instead, told in a whisper.
The Hurricanes were humming along just fine, up 14-3 and seemingly toying with Wisconsin on a 39-yard Wildcat touchdown run by DeeJay Dallas, and then Rosier hurried a pass that linebacker Andy Van Ginkel intercepted right along the line of scrimmage.
Even then, with the turnover coming just outside the red zone, it seemed like Miami might be able to escape without too much damage. On third-and-7, Hornibrook unleashed one for the corner under pressure, a pass that seemed well covered until it slipped through the flailing arms of Delaney and into those of Badgers receiver Danny Davis for a 20-yard score.
That was the play that kick-started the Badgers offense, a unit that finally got freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor going toward a 130-yard rushing night but actually wound up with 15 first downs passing and only seven rushing.
“That’s a very good team,” said Miami offensive tackle Kc McDermott, the senior from Palm Beach Central High School. “There’s a reason why they finished undefeated in the regular season and they gave Ohio State a great game (in the Big Ten title game). “But I know in my mind we should have definitely, definitely, won that game.”
Likewise, Richt believes he definitely, definitely was justified in howling at the refs. Still, words clearly weren’t going to have any effect in wounding the Badgers, who were penalized only three times for 35 yards. Actions would be necessary, like the sack that Chad Thomas visited on Hornibrook early in the third quarter.
Boy, did that get the home fans jumping and shouting and shoving their way toward the cameras to flash the famous “U.”
Wisconsin had a way of turning the tables on this night, however.
First it was Wisconsin fans doing a little hand jive, holding up a “U” until the cameras found them and then quickly rearranging their fingers into a “W.”
Then it was Badgers cornerback Derrick Tindal snagging an interception in the end zone after snagging Cager by the seat of the Miami receiver’s pants and getting away with it. That’s not what made Rosier underthrow the ball for an egregious interception in the end zone but a holding call would have wiped away that turnover and given the Hurricanes another scoring shot.
You have to figure, though, that Wisconsin would have kept pouring it on anyway until there was nothing left but to shake hands and shuffle off into the new year with new aspirations.
Richt isn’t finished. Not even close. With a Coastal title finally in hand, he’ll get back to work with the mission of ruling everything coast to coast.
Saturday night was another stepping stone toward that goal, even if the Hurricanes got stepped on in the process, too.