Shackling No. 6 Wisconsin goal for Miami
The Sports Xchange
It will be Turnover Chain vs. turnover prone in the Orange Bowl.
No. 10 Miami made a run at the College Football Playoff with the help of its ball-hawking defense and turnover margin, which ranks as one of the finest in the nation. No. 6 Wisconsin chased a playoff spot until a loss in the Big Ten title game, posting an 12-1 record despite a quarterback whose 15 interceptions were among the highest total in the country.
The Hurricanes and Badgers meet Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Miami (10-2) produced 30 turnovers this season as its new sideline swag — the Turnover Chain, which goes around the neck of whoever comes up with the takeaway — became a team rallying cry and one of the most buzzed-about stories in college football.
Defensive back Jaquan Johnson has a team-high four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Defensive back Michael Jackson also picked off four passes. Sixteen different Hurricanes have come up with a takeaway.
“I think a lot of their takeaways are kind of team defense takeaways,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “A lot of their picks — whoever gets them is finishing that, but there is also pressure on the quarterback. They are playing fast and running to the ball. It’s a good defense.”
As far as defenses go, Wisconsin’s isn’t too shabby either.
The Badgers are first nationally in total defense (253.2 yards per game), second in rushing defense (92.6) and third in scoring defense (13.2).
There couldn’t be a much greater contrast between the meat-and-potatoes reputation of Wisconsin and the blinged-out style of Miami, but know this: The Badgers’ defense, much more quietly, came up with 26 turnovers and had six players earn first- or second-team All-Big Ten honors.
The first-team selections were All-American linebacker T.J. Edwards, cornerback Nick Nelson and safety D’Cota Dixon. They will be trying to stop Miami quarterback Malik Rosier, who struggled in consecutive losses after the team’s 10-0 start.
He was a combined 29 of 63 passing in losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson, the latter coming in the ACC Championship Game, when Rosier threw two interceptions. He won’t have his two best receivers — wideout Ahmmon Richards and tight end Christopher Herndon IV — who are each out after knee surgeries.
“I think his mental state is good,” Miami offensive lineman Tyler Gauthier said of Rosier after a pre-Christmas practice.
“You see him at practice today and he’s throwing darts. I mean, he’s having a good time out there. He’s making everyone go at a faster pace. You can see that leadership role is still really good and you can see he still has a competitiveness to him.”
Wisconsin has looked to sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook to play more than a game-manager role. He passed for 200-plus yards in five regular-season games, but he tossed an interception in 10 of his 13 starts, with 15 picks overall, tied for the fifth-most in the country.
His final pass in a 27-21 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, was an interception on fourth-and-20 at the Wisconsin 47.
Hornibrook has an outstanding supporting cast, including tight end Troy Fumagalli (43 catches, 516 yards), an all-star right side of the line (guard Beau Benzschawel, tackle David Edwards) and star freshman running back Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor, who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, is third nationally with 142.1 rushing yards per game. He has 1,847 rushing yards, needing 79 to break Adrian Peterson’s FBS freshman record of 1,925. The one knock on Taylor: He lost five fumbles.
“They have those athletic linemen, and they’ve got that guy in the backfield,” said Miami linebacker Zach McCloud. “He’s doing some nice things this season. He’s going to be a hard guy to tackle; gotta really wrap him up and drive through his legs.”
With both teams coming off losses, it’s hard to say which squad has the greater motivation, although Miami gets the benefit of being at home and is playing in the Orange Bowl for the first time since the 2003 season.
“It means a lot,” defensive lineman Kendrick Norton said. “Obviously, it’s going to be like a home game for us, so we will be comfortable. Miami hasn’t been (in the Orange Bowl) for a while, so we have a lot of pride in getting there and doing well.”
Wisconsin is playing in its 16th consecutive bowl game, the longest streak in the Big Ten, and Chryst said his players, especially his seniors, know how to balance focus and fun.
“You want them to enjoy it and appreciate it. They have earned the right to be a part of this bowl and play against a really good team in Miami,” Chryst said. “Certainly, we want to be ready to play our best football. I think we’re capable of doing that and enjoying the experience.”