In the end, their home stadium, hometown fans and cherished “Miami Nights’’ Adidas all-black uniforms did nothing to send the Miami Hurricanes out with a victory as the final day of 2017 approached.
Sixth-ranked Wisconsin and a career night by quarterback Alex Hornibrook put an end to a happy new year for the 10th-ranked Canes late Saturday with a 34-24 victory in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
The Badgers finished 13-1 for their most wins in 126 years of football.
Hornibrook, named Most Outstanding Player, completed 23 of 34 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns in front of a capacity crowd of 65,032 at Hard Rock Stadium.
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The Hurricanes (10-3), intent on ending 2017 the way they started it, lost their third consecutive game after winning their first 10 — a nation-leading 15 in a row if you count the end of last season — en route to what was previously as high as a No. 2 ranking.
“First I want to say how much I really appreciate this football team, the seniors in particular, but everybody,’’ UM coach Mark Richt said. “Super coachable bunch of guys. Did some things that hadn’t been done around here in a while. Did some things that have never been done. We got to taste 15 wins in a row, and then we had to taste three [losses] in a row. Obviously been a pretty streaky team in that way.’’
Richt said he took “as much responsiblity’’ for the loss “as anybody.’’
“Actually, more, because I’m in charge of everything,’’ he said. “I didn’t coach good enough, and we will get better, I can promise. I know I lost my cool,’’ Richt added about the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he got late in the second quarter when, after the coach was visibly incensed because he was sure defensive end Trent Harris was held, he grabbed the arm of an official.
“I know I lost my cool, I thought rightfully so as far as being mad, but not rightfully so using some of the language I used. Not particularly proud of myself there. I apologize to anybody who can read lips.
“But anyway, I love this team, I’m proud of them and just sorry we didn’t get it done tonight.’’
Those fireworks that the Canes counted on to bring in 2018 will, for now, have to wait. The top-10 ranking will go away, and the crushed Miami fans will no doubt vent.
Fortunately for Miami, that early signing period that brought in an exceptional recruiting bounty of 19 new Hurricanes, means that next season could very well be better than this one. And this one, despite the disappointing past month, was the best UM season since 2003, the last time the Canes played in the Orange Bowl (and won) to finish 11-2.
But on Saturday, UM’s pain was too raw to see much positive.
Quarterback Malik Rosier threw three interceptions to make it 11 in his past seven games, preventing UM from cashing in on valuable opportunities. Rosier finished 11 of 26 for 203 yards, one touchdown and the three picks.
“They did a really good job of just making me throw balls in tight coverage,’’ Rosier said. “One time, the first interception I had, it was a great job by the guy. [Left tackle] Kc McDermott tried to cut him. He did a great job getting his hands up and the ball just unfortunately wound up hitting him. They were fast, they were physical and they just did a great job of making me throw low-percentage passes.’’
Michael Badgley’s 24-yard field-goal attempt with 4:34 left in the game bounced off the right upright to prevent the Hurricanes from coming within one touchdown, securing the Badgers’ victory.
“It was one of those days that I guess the ball wasn’t flying off my foot well,’’ Badgley said. “I didn't do my job. I let my teammates down. I let the seniors down. It's one of those tough things. It's football. It's hard.
“...But I’m not going to let that define my career.’’
UM jumped out to a 14-3 first-quarter lead, but Wisconsin scored 21 points in the second quarter on three touchdown passes, two of them to Danny Davis (20 yards and 5 yards) and the other a 16-yarder to A.J. Taylor. Wisconsin had a commanding 24-14 lead going into the locker room.
UM made it 24-21 at 10:52 of the third quarter on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Rosier to Lawrence Cager. Rosier had scrambled to the right, drew defenders toward him, then launched the scoring strike down the middle.
The Canes stopped Wisconsin, drove as far as the Badgers 24-yard line, but Rosier threw his second interception of the night to Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson graduate Derrick Tindal, who was waiting in the end zone.
The Badgers roared right back after the turnover with a 47-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone for the 27-21 lead.
Then, Badgley’s 41-yard field goal at 11:34 again put UM within three points at 27-24.
But Wisconsin wouldn’t quit and Davis caught his third touchdown of the night for the final score.
The first quarter belonged to the Hurricanes, who ran all over the Badgers — 12 carries for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Six of UM’s 7 plays in its first scoring drive were rushes, with the lone completion going 22 yards to DeeJay Dallas. Travis Homer culminated the drive with a 5-yard touchdown to make it 7-3 with 5:21 left.
Homer’s touchdown was just the sixth rushing score Wisconsin allowed all season. At that point, UM already had 75 yards rushing, surpassing what the Badgers had allowed to Northwestern (25 yards), Purdue (66), Indiana (40), Iowa (25) and Michigan (58) in entire games.
The Canes took a 14-3 lead on their next drive that lasted only 29 seconds and consisted of two plays — both direct snaps to freshman DeeJay Dallas, who sprinted 39 yards down the right side into the end zone.
With 2:49 left in the opening quarter, UM had rushed 11 times for 120 yards.
But then everything collapsed for the Canes.
The Canes will soon enough have plenty on their minds. They open next season on Sept. 1 against LSU in the AdvoCare Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The No. 17 Tigers (9-3) are preparing to face No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) on Monday in the Citrus Bowl.
But for seniors such as Braxton Berrios, Saturday was their college finale.
“A lot of it was us stopping us,’’ Berrios said, “and that’s one of the hardest things coming away from this. They won the game but I think we lost it. It’s tough. When I walk out of this locker room, it’s the last time I’m going to be with these guys and the team. That’s hard, really hard because this has always been my dream and I gave it everything I had.
“I have zero regrets by any stretch of the imagination,’’ he said. “...But it sucks.’’