MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The last pass Alex Hornibrook threw before Saturday’s Capital One Orange Bowl found the hands of Ohio State’s Damon Webb, ending Wisconsin’s hopes of a Big Ten title, a playoff berth, a miracle season.
Twenty-seven days later, Hornibrook looked like a completely different player, and in a game when Badgers star running back Jonathan Taylor set a freshman record for rushing, it was the beleaguered QB who stole the show.
Hornibrook completed 23-of-34 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns against Miami’s stout defense, utterly unraveling the Hurricanes on third down, and carried the load for the Badgers’ offense in a 34-24 Orange Bowl win over the Hurricanes.
Against Ohio State, Hornibrook had looked lost at times, completed less than half his passes and throwing two interceptions. There were no signs of those struggles Saturday. He decimated the Canes’ D, including completing 7-of-10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown on third down en route to game MVP honors.
Taylor was hardly a sideshow. He racked up 143 total yards of offense, and in the process, he rushed past Adrian Peterson to set the FBS rushing record for freshmen.
And Miami certainly did its share to help Wisconsin’s cause. Kicker Michael Badgley missed two field goals. QB Malik Rosier threw three picks, including one in the end zone and another on Miami’s final drive. And head coach Mark Richt was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after grabbing and shoving an official in a furor over a lack of holding calls against Wisconsin.
It was an ugly finish to a season of progress for Miami.
The turnover chain was slung around corner Dee Delaney‘s neck on the first drive of the game, but Delaney ended up watching as one of Hornibrook’s passes sailed out of his reach and into the arms of Danny Davis for Wisconsin’s first touchdown, and by game’s end, it was the Badgers celebrating myriad takeaways from the struggling Miami offense.
Richt, normally as affable as any coach, was livid throughout the game, angry at the lack of calls from officials, including a what appeared to be a clear hold of Braxton Berrios on Rosier’s second interception. When asked about the altercation with the officiating crew at halftime, Richt simply told ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath to “watch the tape.” And after Miami finished the regular season a perfect 7-0 at home, it blew a 14-3 lead in what was essentially another home game.
The Canes, who were ranked No. 2 in the penultimate College Football Playoff Committee poll, end the season with three straight losses and questions about their future at quarterback. Rosier set the school record for touchdowns in the game, but also showcased why so many Miami fans hope there’s an alternative at the position for 2018.
For Wisconsin, there’s no doubt who’ll be at QB next season.
Hornibrook endured his share of growing pains this season, but the Orange Bowl felt like a turning point. The extra bowl practice clearly worked wonders, and a potential backfield tandem with Taylor next season would make Wisconsin a clear favorite to win the Big Ten West once again.
It was a fond sendoff for Derrick Tindal, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida native, who picked off Rosier’s pass in the end zone.
And it was a stellar finish for the Badgers, who upended Miami on its home turf, with one quarter of the stadium clad in red remaining as the final seconds ticked off the clock on the best season in Wisconsin history.
At Miami, the turnover chain will be back next year. So, too, will a stout defense. But the talk of the Canes reviving their glory years was still premature.
At Wisconsin, the 2018 season can’t get here soon enough. And if this version of Hornibrook helms the offense, this Orange Bowl might end up being the catalyst for a special season next year.