Wisconsin Edges Miami in Orange Bowl Behind Alex Hornibrook's 4 TDs

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2017

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30:  Alex Hornibrook #12 of the Wisconsin Badgers passes during the 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Miami Hurricanes 34-24 in the 2017 Orange Bowl on Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Wisconsin's Alex Hornibrook threw for a career-high 258 yards and four touchdowns on 23-of-34 passing, while Jonathan Taylor carried the ball 26 times for 130 yards.

ESPN.com's David Hale thought Hornibrook was unrecognizable from his earlier self this year:

A special place in Hale @DavidHaleESPN

I don’t know what Alex Hornibrook did during the past month, but it was definitely time well spent. Hard to believe this is the same QB who played Ohio State in the B1G title game.

ESPN announcer Adam Amin praised Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst for creating a strategy to cover for Hornibrook's weaknesses:

Adam Amin @adamamin

Tonight is a fantastic marriage of Hornibrook playing well and Paul Chryst designing and executing a hell of a gameplan.

Taylor also made history in the victory. He finished with 1,977 rushing yards for the season, which are the most ever for a freshman, according to Wisconsin Football. Adrian Peterson (1,925 yards in 2004) held the previous mark.

Wisconsin owed much of its success Saturday to a 21-point second quarter. Miami appeared to be in the driver's seat in the first frame.

The Hurricanes broke out the turnover chain on the first drive of the game when Taylor fumbled on the fourth play from scrimmage. Then, a pair of touchdown runs gave Miami a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. USA Today's Dan Wolken thought the Hurricanes were looking like the superior team:

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

This has been an athletic mismatch

However, Hornibrook responded with three touchdown passes in the second quarter, with the final TD throw coming 28 seconds from halftime to help put the Badgers ahead 24-14. ESPN shared a replay of the pass, which was Danny Davis III's second touchdown reception of the quarter:

ESPN @espn

The Badgers close out the first half on a high note, taking a 24-14 lead over Miami. https://t.co/n2SnU0voI6

Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt provided a helping hand on the drive, as referees assessed him with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball up to the 5-yard line to set up a 1st-and-goal. ESPN College Football showed Richt's argument and contact with a referee:

ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB

Mark Richt lost his mind at the end of the first half. https://t.co/CiGLl8ig5D

Some questioned whether Richt should've been ejected altogether, since Kentucky Wildcats running back Benny Snell was ejected from the Music City Bowl on Friday for an incident with a referee. Richt remained in the game, but his presence didn't change much for Miami in the second half.

Missed opportunities summed up the final two quarters for the Hurricanes.

They reached the Wisconsin 24-yard line before Malik Rosier threw an interception with 8:48 left in the third quarter, which set up a 47-yard field goal for Rafael Gaglianone to put Wisconsin up 27-21. Two possessions later, Miami had a 1st-and-10 at the Badgers' 28-yard line but moved the ball just four yards and settled for a 41-yard field goal by Michael Badgley to halve the deficit.

Hornibrook responded by driving Wisconsin 75 yards for a touchdown to make it a two-score game, and Miami's comeback hopes largely ended when Badgley's 24-yard attempt hit off the right upright with 4:34 remaining.

The good news for Miami is Saturday's defeat doesn't take away from what should be a bright future. Beyond defensive ends Chad Thomas and Trent Harris, the Hurricanes should lose few of their key defenders, while they should have eight of their offensive starters return.

Most importantly, Richt will have no shortage of quarterbacks from which to choose. Rosier is a redshirt junior, and N'Kosi Perry redshirted the 2017 season. The Hurricanes also added Jarren Williams to their 2018 recruiting class. Williams is the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Improved quarterback play will be critical for Miami to move further toward national title contention in 2018, and the Hurricanes should be able to achieve that goal—whether it's with Rosier or one of their younger passers.

Likewise, Wisconsin will feel good about its chances of getting double-digit wins for the fifth straight year. The Badgers avoid playing Ohio State and Michigan State and have winnable nonconference games against Western Kentucky, New Mexico and BYU in 2018.

The biggest question will be how defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard handles a unit that loses more than half of its starters. Under Leonhard, the Wisconsin defense continued the success Dave Aranda and then Justin Wilcox had built.

If the Badgers can once again be a dominant defensive team, the presence of Hornibrook and Taylor could make them serious national title contenders.