If you thought Saturday’s matchup would be a dull, grind-it-out kind of game, let’s face it, you were wrong. Wisconsin looked to make a statement against the high octane Miami Hurricanes in the Capital One Orange Bowl, Wisconsin’s fourth bowl win in four years.

Before kickoff, it was clear Wisconsin would need to cherish the football, limiting turnovers at all costs. Miami’s defense had been prolific all season at forcing turnovers, tied for second in the nation in turnovers forced. The “turnover chain” has been a national phenomenon, and tragically, the glistening jewelry made an early appearance Saturday, albeit questionably. Officials ruled Jonathan Taylor fumbled in Miami territory, although the tale of the tape suggested otherwise, as Taylor’s elbow and knee both appeared to be down before the ball came loose.

After committing a costly turnover, Wisconsin’s defense characteristically stepped up, forcing a long 54-yard Miami field goal attempt which sailed wide right, keeping the game scoreless to that point.

On Wisconsin’s ensuing drive, Jonathan Taylor took the keys to the offense, pushing the Badgers deep into Miami territory with relative ease. On a critical third down conversion attempt, Alex Hornibrook missed a surefire first down to Troy Fumagalli, instead airing the ball out to AJ Taylor in the end zone, only see his pass tipped by the ever-vigilant Miami secondary. Wisconsin would settle for a field goal, breaking a scoreless tie at that point.

Miami would answer tremendously, compiling a scoring drive full of 20+ yard pickups due partially to missed or broken tackles, an issue that plagued a generally physical Wisconsin defense in the Big Ten Championship game. After a five-yard rushing touchdown, Miami would lead 7-3 midway through the first quarter.

Miami seemed to play with far more energy than did Wisconsin early, their hyped-up defense met expectations Saturday, smothering opposing momentum with seeming ease, racking up tackles for loss and forcing Hornibrook outside the pocket play after play.

After a punt from within the Miami 10 yard line, Wisconsin’s defense was tasked with defending a short field yet again as Miami controlled the ball on the Wisconsin 45. That short field was quickly eaten up, as Miami broke free for a 39-yard rushing score off a wildcat formation. Their 11-point lead felt avoidable, as their second score came on the heels of three missed tackles, getting in their own way more than anything else on defense.

Offensively, Wisconsin was simply outplayed by the stellar Miami defensive attack. It seemed as though any approach Wisconsin threw at Miami was simply not enough. However, taking a page out of Miami’s book, Andrew Van Ginkel stepped up mightily with a rousing interception to kick off the second quarter, giving the offense tremendous field position just outside the red zone.

Riding the high off of Van Ginkel’s defensive mastery, Wisconsin finally made quick work of the Miami defense, as Hornibrook delivered a 20-yard strike to Danny Davis who just barely kept the ball inbounds to break the plane, cutting the Miami lead to just 4 to kick off the second quarter.

If the first quarter was Miami’s to control, the second belonged to Wisconsin. Following the efficient score, Wisconsin shut down the ensuing Miami drive and would control the ball off a punt at their own 29. Taylor would again control the drive, breaking first contact time and again, breaking the single-season rushing total for a freshman in FBS history, passing Ron Dayne and Adrian Peterson along the way. After a tremendously surprising first down hurdle from FB Austin Ramesh, Alex Hornibrook delivered an absolutely flawless 20-yard pass to AJ Taylor in the back of the end zone, reclaiming their lead 17-14.

The defense would again respond, forcing a Miami three-and-out. With the clock ticking down in the first half, Wisconsin looked to extend their lead heading into the locker room. On a third and long outside the red zone, Hornibrook would roll outside the pocket and send a beautiful pass to Kendric Pryor to put the Badgers on the Miami 10 with 33 seconds remaining. On the following play, Hornibrook would add a feathery touch on a five-yard beauty to Danny Davis, marking Wisconsin’s third unanswered TD of the quarter.

Out of the half, Wisconsin would make quick work of the Miami offense, forcing them to punt in the first two minutes of the quarter. Miami would do their best Wisconsin impression on the ensuing drive, forcing a quick three-and-out after their first sack of the night.

After being outscored 21-0 in the second quarter, Miami was fed up. Malik Rosier would toss a 38-yard touchdown pass that couldn’t have been delivered more easily. Nick Nelson appeared to get his feet tangled up in coverage, leaving the field wide open for a resounding Miami score, and just like that the Wisconsin lead was just three.

The second half was beginning to look like a carbon copy of the first, with Miami chewing up yardage as though it were second nature. After forcing their second straight three-and-out, Miami was again driving towards what felt like an inevitable score. Characteristically, a defensive spark plug again surfaced, this time manifesting in Derrick Tindal who intercepted a would-be touchdown, giving Wisconsin a much-needed boost.

Miami would hold strong following the turnover, breaking up a would-be touchdown to Troy Fumagalli over the middle and eventually forcing Wisconsin to settle for a 47-yard Gaglianone field goal, which would extend the Badger lead to six.

Each team’s defenses took control late in the third and early in the fourth, making sure they weren’t forgotten. As offenses exchanged punts back and forth, it was clear someone needed to step up on either side, either to extend a lead or reclaim one.

Miami finally began converting their third down attempts, successfully converting their first two of the game back-to-back early in the fourth. As the Hurricanes moved deeper into Wisconsin territory, DE Isaiahh Loudermilk swatted a would-be third down conversion, forcing Miami to take a field goal, shaving the lead back to just three.

Hornibrook would put together yet another beautiful drive, finding Taylor and Fumagalli both for big gains to put the Badgers inside the red zone on a crucial drive. Hornibrook would find freshman WR Danny Davis for his third touchdown of the night and Hornibrook’s fourth, extending the Wisconsin lead to 10 halfway through the fourth.

This was undoubtedly Hornibrook’s most complete game to date, all things considered. Unfortunately, his game couldn’t control Miami’s almost immediate response. Rosier aired out a gorgeous pass to true freshman Jeff Thomas for 48 yards and a 1st and goal. The Wisconsin effort would play smart yet dominant defense to stifle a critical Miami scoring effort. A field goal would have pushed the game to one possession, but Miami mercifully shanked their 23-yard field goal attempt, preserving a 10-point lead.

A balanced, aggressive and measured effort would ultimately lead to a Wisconsin Orange Bowl victory, their fourth straight bowl win and a terrific statement that this program is legit, not just a result of their seemingly lenient schedule. 34-24 was your final from Miami, and the future is magnificently bright in Madison.

Photo courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

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