Following a gnawing defeat to No. 5 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, Wisconsin football is looking for redemption as their flight lands in balmy Florida. In what’s essentially a home game for the No. 10 Miami Hurricanes, No. 6 Wisconsin will look to extend their bowl win streak to four in a row on Saturday in Miami’s Capital One Orange Bowl.
Both late season contenders for the College Football Playoff, Miami and Wisconsin still have plenty to prove heading into this weekend’s matchup. A primetime bowl win for either team would cement their collective status as elite programs. In Wisconsin’s case specifically, a loss Saturday would confirm the collective criticism heard throughout the season; when faced with a formidable opponent, Wisconsin can’t step up.
If victory is to be attained in Miami, Wisconsin must win the offensive battle. Miami’s defense is notoriously good at forcing turnovers. Limiting exposure of the infamous ‘Turnover Chain’ will be a point of emphasis for tomorrow’s matchup, especially after the consistency with which Alex Hornibrook has tossed preventable interceptions. Ball security and savvy secondary reads should comfortably sit atop Wisconsin’s list of emphases before Saturday. Finally, in order to properly build momentum and compile scoring drives, the offensive line will need to play its best game all season, as Miami is particularly adept at reaching the quarterback, in fact they’re among the best in the nation at doing so.
Here are players to watch from the disruptive Miami defense.
Trent Harris, Sr. DL
Miami is tied for second in the nation in total sacks on the year, and Harris is a big reason why. With 8.5 on the season, the 6’2″, 248 lb. lineman is an elite pass rusher. As the narrative of this season suggests, Hornibrook needs adequate time and a clean pocket to perform at his best, so limiting the productivity of Harris’s night will ensure a cleaner offensive performance from Wisconsin.
Harris however, is no easy cover. He has played his best football at season’s end, racking up two sacks in both games versus Notre Dame and Virginia. Whoever is tasked with containing Harris will have their hands full, and Hornibrook’s production depends heavily on the containment of the Miami pass-rush attack.
The Entire Secondary
Singling out a specific Miami defensive back who will have a measurably higher impact on Saturday’s game is relatively pointless. The fact of the matter is the Miami secondary is full of ball hawks. Ranking in the top 15 in the nation in total interceptions, Miami has totaled 17 against 11 opponents.
While the Wisconsin defense has been admirable when it comes to defending a short field after a turnover, a conservative approach to the pass game may remove this risk altogether. Considering the deep ball hasn’t been a noteworthy asset to Wisconsin’s offensive approach, keeping the ball out of the Miami secondary’s reach through shorter and more conservative passes will take the pressure off the defense and build drives consistent with Wisconsin’s brand of football: grind and grit.
Saturday will be a matchup of an elite defense versus a less-than-proven offense, but smart football will win the game for Wisconsin. By trying to be a team they simply aren’t, Wisconsin will only get in their own way.