It’s been a season of history. Rushing records. Number of games played in a career. Elite defense. And after a 34-24 win over Miami, the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers ended the year winning the most games in program history.
Their win over Miami pushed them to 13-1 in one of the best seasons in program history. Head coach Paul Chryst and Wisconsin have now won four straight bowl games (2014 Outback Bowl, 2015 Holiday Bowl, 2016 Cotton Bowl) including two straight New Year Six bowl games.
Despite playing Miami in what was essentially a home game for them in the Orange Bowl, Wisconsin dominated. And despite the Big Ten being overlooked all season, they are now 7-0 in the 2017 bowl season.
Alex Hornibrook is an assassin
We have had our doubts all season. It is hard to look past the multitude of pick-6’s and the 15 total interceptions on the season that the Wisconsin sophomore quarterback has thrown. He even broke a school record for consecutive games with an interception.
Don’t tell that to this version of Hornibrook though.
After a classic slow start from Wisconsin, thanks to a fumble that should have never been (yes, we all know Jonathan Taylor’s knee was down) and the shocking Miami speed, Hornibrook and Wisconsin came roaring back.
To the tune of three straight drives that ended with touchdowns. True freshman Danny Davis lead the way with three touchdown grabs.
All in all, Wisconsin’s offense, with Honribrook leading the way, looked as locked in and as consistent as they have all season. And this was going up against a defense that leads the country in turnovers.
But Honribrook continued his gutsy art of throwing the ball up to allow for his skilled receivers to make a play. It paid off.
He finished the day going 23/34 for 258 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly, and almost uncharacteristically, he did not throw an interception.
2018 will be the year of offense
For the better part of the last decade, and maybe even longer than that, Wisconsin’s identity has been methodical, slow offense teamed up with elite defense. The 2018 seasons could turn the tables on that identity.
While the defense consisted of six starters who where seniors, the offense was young, with only two. Sophomores and freshmen lead the way in 2017 and should be looking at even bigger years come 2018. Against Miami, a (I cannot believe I’m about to type this) high octane Wisconsin offense gave Badger fans something to look forward to.
No where is that more apparent than in the receiving core. In the Orange Bowl, A.J. Taylor lead the way with eight receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown.
True freshman Danny Davis also got in on the fun with an amazing three touchdown receptions. Miami is known for having great athletes and speed in skill positions, but Wisconsin’s wideouts made them look silly all night.
Even Kendric Pryor hauled in two catches for 30 yards. Most importantly, all of this without the teams best receiver sophomore Qunitez Cephus.
Other young talent is the true freshman Jonathan Taylor who broke the NCAA record for freshman rushing yards. In Saturday’s primetime game, Taylor rushed for 130 yards on 26 carries.
Also, as mentioned above, Hornibrook is a sophomore and took major steps this year and Wisconsin fans can expect continual development into his junior year.
2018 will no doubt be the year of the offense for Wisconsin
Andrew Van Ginkel was the spark
As a junior college transfer, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel came in with a lot of promise but a lot of work to be done as he would have to work his way up the depth chart.
But as injuries riddled through the defense, Van Ginkel gained more and more reps. He has made the most of it and it first showed in the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State. The junior almost sparked a comeback in that game with an interception for a touchdown, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
In the Orange Bowl, Van Ginkel was the spark again, but this time Wisconsin came away with the win.
To kick off the second quarter, with Miami already leading 14-3 and seemingly dominating Wisconsin in all facets of the game, Van Ginkel made an amazing play on the ball, intercepting it.
It set up Wisconsin’s first touchdown of the game.
Later in the second quarter, Van Ginkel sacked Miami quarterback Malik Rosier on what would be the Hurricane’s second straight three and out.
Possibly his biggest play came late in the fourth quarter with Miami charging down the field looking to cut the Badger lead to three. But Van Ginkel had other plans, getting Rosier on a touchdown saving tackle.
Miami would be forced to kick the short field goal, which they wound up missing.
As Wisconsin’s defense will see many senior players, like linebackers Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs, graduate and with junior Jack Cichy’s decision to enter the NFL draft, Van Ginkel will be a key in Jim Leonhard’s defense come 2018.