It is nearly time for the Wisconsin Badgers to take on the Miami Hurricanes in Miami…only they’ll be considering this a neutral site game. Yes, that’s because we’re talking about playing the Orange Bowl and not just a regular matchup.
But, these aren’t two unfamiliar programs as the Badgers and Hurricanes have gotten together four times in history. That includes a win by Wisconsin in the last meeting between these two teams — the 2009 Champ Sports Bowl.
It’s been nearly a decade though and things have changed a lot of both programs since then. Mark Richt was coaching at Georgia, while Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst was on the sideline for that game as the Badgers offensive coordinator.
Given all the changes, how do we see this game playing out? Here are 10 things for you to know as the Badgers and Hurricanes clash at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 30.
1. Miami (FL) leads the nation in sacks per game
While the “turnover chain” gets all of the attention with the Hurricanes difference, there’s little doubt this is a dominant defense overall. The fact that the Hurricanes rank No. 1 in the country in sacks should also be of note. Miami has been able to rack up an average of 3.58 sacks per game. On the flip side, Wisconsin is giving up just 1.54 sacks per game to rank 37th nationally. Winning the line of scrimmage in the pass game is going to be fun to watch.
2. Wisconsin is making its second-straight appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game
Sometimes experience in these high-profile games can matter, and the Badgers have that advantage in a major way. In fact, this will be Wisconsin’s 16th straight year making a bowl game, which is the longest streak in the Big Ten and the sixth-longest streak in the country. Will that experience matter? It will be interesting, as Miami will be making its first appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
3. Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor is 3rd in the country in rushing
When anyone thinks of Wisconsin Badgers football, the first thing that comes to mind is great college running backs. The Badgers found another nationally elite back in freshman Jonathan Taylor, who is third in the country with 142.1 yards per game. He’s got 1,847 yards already on the year and needs just 79 yards to break the single-season freshman rushing record. Can he do it against a Miami defense that is allowing 146 yards per game?
4. Miami will be 4th ranked opponent for Badgers this season
For all the talk of a weak schedule, this will be the fourth time in the last five games that the Badgers have faced a ranked opponents. UW has won two of the previous three though, destroying Iowa and getting past Michigan before a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. So, while the Hurricanes are one of the best teams the Badgers have seen, it isn’t as if they weren’t tested at a ll during the year.
5. Both Miami and Wisconsin are .500 in bowl game play
For what it is worth, these two teams are both pretty average when it comes to bowl game experience. Miami comes in at 10-10 in 20 bowl game experiences, while the Badgers are 14-14. However, Miami has won just one bowl game since 2006 and that was a win over No. 16 West Virginia in last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl. Wisconsin has won three straight, holding wins over Auburn, USC and an undefeated Western Michigan.
6. No player has worn the infamous Miami “turnover chain” more than six times on the season
Defensive back Jaquan Johnson leads all Hurricanes players in individual takeaway awards this season, earning the turnover chain on six different occasions. Given all the turnovers that Miami has created, it just goes to show that this is a group hell-bent on turnover creation. In total, 16 different players have worn the turnover chain for Miami this year.
What should be really scary for Badgers fans is the fact that not only is the leader of the turnover race a defensive back, so is the second place man — Michael Jackson — who has worn the turnover chain on five occasions this season. With Hornibrook’s propensity to turn the ball over (15 interceptions), this is a worry spot for UW in this game and a potentially huge advantage for Miami.
7. Miami won 7 games in ACC play for the first time this year
It has been a season of firsts for the Hurricanes with Mark Richt fully in control of the program. That season of first’s includes winning 7 conference games for the first time as a member of the ACC. That 7-1 record in conference play led the Hurricanes to the ACC championship game for the first time as well, losing to No. 1 Clemson in Charlotte. But, getting to the championship game was a hurdle that needed to be knocked down first, and that’s what Richt’s team finally did this season.
8. Wisconsin has allowed just 8 touchdowns over the last 8 games
One way the Badgers defense has been able to be recognized as an elite group has been in its ability to keep opponents out of the end zone. That was put front and center over the last 8 games, as the Badgers defense has given up just 8 total touchdowns (including pick sixes) over the last 8 games. That’s impressive, but it wasn’t a fluke either, as UW tied with Alabama for the fewest touchdowns allowed with just 15 over the course of 13 games this season. In fact, 6 of 13 opponents were held to 10 points or less in 2017.
9. That’s the number of games in which RB Jonathan Taylor has seen action in the 4th quarter this season
The fact that Jonathan Taylor has played in the fourth quarter in just nine of 13 games should be a pretty good indicator of just how dominate his season has been. It should also tell you a lot about just how big the margin of victory for the Badgers has been the majority of the year too. In fact, Taylor has only touched the ball 38 times in the fourth quarter all season long.
If he’s in in the fourth quarter, it is likely the Badgers aren’t in control of this game and if you aren’t seeing him in the final stanza, you can bet the scoreline is already out of control. Either way, his playing time in the fourth quarter is a good indicator of how the game is going.
10. Jonathan Taylor is second in the country in runs of 10 yards or more
It’s one thing to rack up a ton of carries and go over the 1,000-yard mark, it’s a completely different thing to do what Jonathan Taylor has done with his 273 carries. He’s not only been able to carry most of the load, he’s also been a dynamic running back. So much so that he’s second in the country in runs of over 10 yards. Taylor has posted 57 runs of 10-plus yards and only Florida Atlantic RB Devin Singletary (60) has more this season.
Miami’s defense has allowed 64 rushes of 10-plus yards this season, with just 17 of them going for 20-plus yards though. That means it may be tougher sledding than usual for Taylor and the Badgers backfield.