When the Miami Hurricanes and Wisconsin Badgers meet up on Saturday in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the first time since 2009’s Champs Sports Bowl, there will be more than just bragging rights on the line for either program. For the Badgers, who were a Big Ten Championship win out from the College Football Playoff, the Orange Bowl represents the ideal venue and opponent to illustrate that their 12–1 record is not the product of a ‘soft’ schedule. For the Hurricanes, in a game in their home stadium, this bowl game provides that exclamation mark on what has been a breakthrough season, with a tumultuous stumble in their final two games.
With an orange-filled trophy at stake, State of the U examines some of the key matchups for Saturday’s primetime bowl game.
One vs. One Matchup
LT Michael Dieter (six-foot-six, 328 pounds) vs. DE Joe Jackson (six-foot-five, 258 pounds)
The game within the game. There may not be a more indicative matchup than the one featuring the Badgers’ best pass-blocker and Miami’s premier pass-rusher. Dieter is the living embodiment of Wisconsin’s big, tough, road-grading offensive linemen, churning out blue-chip NFL prospects annually. The 2017 season has been Dieter’s first season at tackle, filling in for NFL-bound Ryan Ramczyk, after the Ohio native started at both center and guard. To show off his athletic prowess, Dieter’s biggest highlight of the season may have been his TD reception against Illinois earlier this season, catching a screened pass from QB Alex Hornibrook and scooting into the endzone. Dieter has good speed at the tackle position, and uses his hands well in pass blocking situations. On run plays, the junior tackle executes the seal block to near perfection. That means that Dieter is able to get in the way of the defender he is responsible for, negating their ability to pursue the play as it develops. There’s is not much film of Dieter being overwhelmed at the point of attack; he holds his ground against bull-rushes and any attempt to walk him off the line of scrimmage. His stellar play this season has led to Dieter being named a First Team All-Big Ten member.
Lining up on the outside shoulder of Dieter will be the Hurricanes’ best counter to the strength and size of Wisconsin’s O-line. Blending speed and adequate strength, Joe Jackson is emblematic of the vaunted South Florida speed that has shaped the identity of Miami’s defense. Jackson is a dual threat as a pass rusher, illustrating a great ability to beat blockers with a speed rush, dipping his shoulders and getting a step on the backpedal of the tackle before they’re able to get both hands on the defensive end. With the addition of power moves such as the bull-rush to his repertoire, the sophomore has taken his production to that next level. On a team that is tied for second in the country with USC for hauling QBs down for a total 43 sacks, Jackson has contributed six-and-a-half sacks and adding 11.5 tackles for loss to sit second on the team in both categories.
Who gets the better of whom here could be indicative of the team that wins the game. Keep in mind that the bowl game makes for the ideal platform to dig into ‘specials’ or trick plays, a feature that Wisconsin has dialed up in the past for Deiter this season. In a bowl game such as this, everything is on the table come Saturday.
Wisconsin’s Running Game vs. Miami’s Front-Seven
Technically, 2017 has not concluded. Yet, there are already publications peeking behind the curtain to get a jumpstart on the 2018 preview. ESPN recently named Badger RB Jonathan Taylor as one of their players who could earn a trip to New York next season for the Heisman ceremony. While the projection is early, it’s not all that far-fetched. Taylor has run wild all over the Big Ten, tallying up big gains. Taylor’s 57 carries for 10 or more yards is second in the nation behind FAU’s RB Devin Singletary. Named a freshman All-American, the New Jersey native fell 78 yards shy of Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson’s 1,925 NCAA rushing record for a freshman, finishing with 1,847 yards.
Some of the keys to Taylor’s breakout season have absolutely been the play of his blockers, who have opened gargantuan-sized lanes for him to navigate through. We’ve highlighted Wisconsin’s left tackle, but it should be mentioned that right guard Beau Benzschawel and right tackle David Edwards were both named third-team All Americans by the Associated Press. Meaning that Taylor is not running behind a group of stiffs working in the trenches. Taylor is also a strong runner that will not be brought down by arms tackles or half-hearted wrap ups. It only takes a couple broken tackles before he sets his sights on making a house call for the touchdown.
He won’t make a lot of defenders miss with jukes, but he has enough of a wiggle to evade the pursuit once he’s down yards past the line of scrimmage. Once he gets into gear, it’s hard for defenders to get him to slow down once he turns his head up north.
It will take full effort from the defense. None of that taking it easy heading towards a play since someone else has him wrapped up. There needs to be a lot of helmets with that ‘U’ on the side to make sure that Taylor does not break a tackle for a big gain. That mentality and pursuit served Ohio State well, holding him to season low of 41 rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship game.
Coming off two poor showings recently, Miami’s linebacker unit will look to make a statement against an offense that earns their living based on the run game. The defensive line will have a huge part to play in the trenches, as they will need to hold the point of attack against the most physically imposing offensive line they’ve played all season. Miami ranks behind only Northern Illinois for the most tackles for loss in the country with 105. The Hurricanes need to impose their will on a Badger offense that is used to being the dictator, not the follower.
The game will be won in the trenches, but it could be lost based on the play of guys who work in the pocket. There are not two more maligned college quarterbacks that have enjoyed the highs and lows of the season quite like Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook and Miami QB Malik Rosier. Both spearheaded their teams to perfect seasons late in the regular season, sometimes in spite of their performance. However, both men have become the speed bag of their respective fanbase, with jabs, counters, and flurries aimed in their direction before the end of the regular season. The Orange Bowl serves as a last audition before an open competition in the spring. It’s unlikely that even an MVP performance on Saturday will save either pivot from a position battle. With a bowl win at stake, along with finishing the season on a good note, the Orange Bowl also represents an opportunity to get a reprieve, albeit a brief one, from the criticism at the most important spot on the field.
Caneseye Players to Watch
We’ve made it this far into the matchup analysis without mentioning a single receiver, unless you consider tight ends for that category. If you don’t, then you’ll be waiting a bit longer. Wisconsin’s leading receiver this season is in fact their TE Troy Fumagalli. A blue-chip prospect at this position, Fumagalli has been just about everything in the passing game for the Badgers. Leading the team with 43 receptions and 516 receiving yards, the Big Ten TE of the Year finished the regular season with four touchdowns. Of course, playing in a run-first offense, Fumagalli is a willing and very capable blocker. Standing at six-foot-six, 248 pounds, the senior has solid hands to corral the ball, often catching it over the heads of defenders. The John Mackey Award finalist also has great presence to locate the ball, catch it in stride and avoid the tackle to gain more yards after the catch. How the Hurricanes choose to defend the TE is an interesting storyline, but we’re just as curious as to who they’ll choose.
Defensively for the Badgers, the guys who make most of the plays are linebackers Ryan Connelly and David Edwards, who stick their noses in every pile they can find. However, our Player to Watch on defense is OLB Garret Dooley. This will be the final game for Dooley in a Badger uniform, one in which he will want to leave a lasting impact. Leading all Badgers with seven-and-a-half sacks, Dooley also leads the team in tackles-for-loss with 12. While defensive coordinator Jim Leonard loves to dial up blitzes from all angles in his 3–4 defense, Miami would be best served to keep an eye on the guy who has shown a tendency to harass the QB for most of the regular season.
Since it is never to early to start campaigning for 2018 awards, why not start the hype machine for RB Travis Homer. Finishing with 902 rushing yards in his first season as Miami’s lead back, Homer has gone through the highs and lows that come with FBS football. You have to admire the humbleness and grit of a player who still plays on special teams, despite being a starter on offense, and who does not merely going through the motions, but rather flies down the field to make tackles on punt team. It’s admirable. Who knows what the future holds, but Homer could contend for the Doak Walker Award and perhaps make a trip to NYC for that stiff arm trophy as well. Let’s settle for a good game that results in a bowl win for the RB and his squad.
Is this the game where we finally see Zach McCloud put it together? There have been fleeting moments, but there have been too many head-scratchers this season where the sophomore linebacker has been out of position and looking lost. With the run-defense likely being the emphasis entering Saturday, the ’Canes are going to rely once more on McCloud to live up to the promise that many had thought he would show in the preseason. Three-and-a-half tackles for loss and two sacks are not bad… it’s the effort that does not seem to be where some believed it should be in his second season.
The Badgers, winners of their last three bowl games (‘14 Outback,’15 Holiday, ‘16 Cotton), with a win will tie a program record of four consecutive bowl wins since they last did so from 1998-’02.
Should the Hurricanes be victorious, it will be the first time that Miami has won a bowl game in consecutive seasons since 2004-’05 when they beat Florida State for the Orange Bowl and Florida for the Peach Bowl.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!