MIAMI GARDENS — The roller-coaster ride that was the 2017 Hurricanes, is over.
Five takeaways from 10th-ranked UM’s 34-24 loss to sixth-ranked Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl:
This team ran from Hurricane Irma in September, spending 21 days between games and spending more than a week in Orlando. They beat Florida State in October, snapping a seven-year losing streak via a last-second catch in Tallahassee (Darrell Langham, forever a hero). They made Hard Rock Stadium a home field to fear in November, whipping Virginia Tech and hated Notre Dame to shove their way into College Football Playoff contention.
The Hurricanes stumbled and fell flat with losses at Pittsburgh and in the ACC Championship, and in a heartburn-heavy Orange Bowl in front of 65,042 largely hometown fans, Miami stayed with Wisconsin until Michael Badgley clanked a 23-yard field goal off the right post with 4:34 left. With UM down 10 points, that was enough for the Badgers to drain the clock, and any chance of a comeback.
It kept the Canes (10-3) — playing in the Orange Bowl for the first time since the 2003 season — from winning 11 games for the first time since that year. That was also the last time they finished ranked in the top 10, which is unlikely to happen after this loss.
Overall, the program took a step forward, but an 0-3 close is sure to make Miami mouths sour until spring ball begins in March — and certainly by Sept. 2, 2018, when the Canes line up against LSU in Arlington, Texas.
Looking for answers at QB
Malik Rosier said recently he’ll welcome a challenge from the younger quarterbacks on UM’s roster, who will enter the spring looking to unseat the redshirt senior-to-be as the starter. He believes it will make him better.
In 2018, either an improved Rosier or a high-quality freshman must be under center for UM to keep building.
Miami’s offense was greatly hurt by the early season-ending injury to star tailback Mark Walton and the late losses of receiver Ahmmon Richards and tight end Chris Herndon. But Rosier just wasn’t good enough this season. He went 11-of-26 for 203 yards Saturday, with a touchdown and three interceptions. His inaccuracy was a major drain on UM’s attack, which rushed well enough (6.0 yards per carry, 174 total yards and two scores) against an excellent Wisconsin defense, but couldn’t capitalize on an early fumble by Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, or the Badgers’ few miscues.
Rosier did set a UM record this season, with 31 total touchdowns (25 passing, six rushing). He broke the record set in 1986 by Vinny Testaverde.
Defense on hold
Richt was incensed shortly before the half, bumping and grabbing an official as he screamed at the man in stripes. By rule, he should have been ejected.
During a pre-scheduled halftime interview with ESPN’s Molly McGrath, Richt replied, “If you watch the tape, you’ll see,” when asked what got him hot. Then he jogged away.
The tape showed officials missed several holding calls against UM’s defensive line, including a clear-as-day grab on end Trent Harris before a Badgers touchdown. They also seemingly missed a hold committed by Wisconsin on receiver Lawrence Cager before Rosier’s third-quarter interception in the end zone.
Hornibrook on fire
That extra time certainly didn’t hurt Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, not known for his prolific completion percentage (below 48 percent in two of his three previous games).
Hornibrook was named game MVP after completing 23-of-34 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns. In the second quarter, he had a stretch in which he hit on 10-of-11 for 116 yards and three touchdowns. Seven of those throws went for 10 yards or longer.
He marched down the field on a drive that made it 34-24 with 7:44 left, going 6-for-6 for 74 yards and a 6-yard touchdown to Danny Davis. UM seemingly couldn’t cover anyone.
What didn’t help: UM lost arguably its best cover man, cornerback Malek Young, early in the first quarter to an undisclosed issue. He did not return.
Special season for Badgers
The Badgers (13-1), who won 13 games for the first time in program history, will be remembered as the second-best team Miami played all year. Clemson, ranked No. 1 heading into Monday’s playoff semifinal against No. 4 Alabama, is the standard Miami is trying to reach.
The Badgers were more than worthy, though. They also rode tailback Jonathan Taylor, who broke the FBS record for rushing yards for a freshman previously held by Adrian Peterson (1,925 in 2004). Taylor went for 130 yards on 25 carries. His teammates combined for 12 yards on 18 carries.
The Wisconsin defense had a tough time covering Lawrence Cager (76 yards, touchdown on four catches), and both Braxton Berrios (45 yards, three grabs) and Jjeff Thomas (48-yard catch) burned them. But a previously inconsistent passing game shined when it counted, and sent Miami into the offseason with weighty questions to answer.