- Jake Elman Special to The Post
MIAMI GARDENS — When the Miami Hurricanes forced a Wisconsin Badgers turnover on their first drive and celebrated with the Turnover Chain, the night was set in motion.
From that point on, as the Hurricanes danced on the sideline and flashed their golden jewelry, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook knew there was no margin for error.
”We got lucky, we didn’t throw any picks today,” Hornibrook said after leading the Badgers (13-1) to a 34-24 win over the Hurricanes (10-3) Saturday night in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. “(Miami) played a lot of man coverage and these guys were winning all their matchups, so it wasn’t too hard for me.”
Hornibrook, a sophomore who threw at least one interception in nine of ten games against Big Ten opponents this season and entered the Orange Bowl with 15 picks to 21 touchdowns, was a clean 23-of-34 with four touchdowns and no interceptions against Miami’s feared defense.
With Hornibrook enjoying a career-night, the Badgers’ offense avoided any further mistakes - and took advantage of several by Miami, including three interceptions by Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier.
Under defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the Hurricanes’ defense had recorded 17 interceptions and 30 takeaways this season. In what appeared to be an favorable matchup for Miami, the Hurricanes were instead shredded by a turnover-prone quarterback and an unheralded group of receivers.
“We played a lot of man coverage and they exploited it,” Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt said. “He obviously was on the mark, he was on the money.”
What could have gone wrong with the Hurricanes? Diaz’s defense had made a habit this season of backing the offense up whenever things went wrong, yet Hornibrook — named the game’s Most Outstanding Player — tore the secondary up with ease, hitting with near-perfect precision.
Over the Hurricanes’ three consecutive losses, the defense allowed quarterbacks to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes for six touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I think it was just the O-line, they were doing a great job,” Hornibrook said. “They were doing a great job just throwing them by and giving me room to step on those passes.”
What will haunt Miami’s defense is that Hornibrook did throw a couple of passes that could have been deflected or taken the other way, but instead slipped past the flailing arms of defenders and into his receiver’s hands.
“He probably had one or two throws behind the receiver,” cornerback Jaquan Johnson observed. “Other than that, he was dead-on all night.”
Added linebacker Shaquille Quarterman: “He throws darts and they have players. … You can see the relationship that they have and he threw darts today. I mean, he threw balls in tight coverage and the receivers just made plays … Somebody has to win.”