In what some have dubbed the Disappointment Bowl, due to both Miami and Wisconsin underachieving in 2018—a rematch, after both crossed paths in a New Years Six bowl last year—the Pinstripe Bowl is set to get underway between two five-loss squads.

HOW WE GOT HERE

For Wisconsin, two warm-up, early-season games against Western Kentucky and New Mexico (obviously) didn’t mean much as the Badgers outscored those lesser opponents by a combined score of 79-17. The season was ultimately made and broken the following week in a 24-21 home loss to BYU, where a game-tying field goal sailed right with :36 remaining.

Even worse than the loss; the fact the Cougars took it to the Badgers—playing physical football, using misdirection and keeping a normally sound and well-coached Badgers squad off-balanced all afternoon. It proved to be Wisconsin’s first non-conference home loss at home since 2003. Three weeks later, after surviving Iowa and Nebraska, a road trip to Michigan ended in a 38-13 loss, derailing a season that started with a ton of promise and a Top 5 pre-season ranking.

The Badgers fell at Northwestern (31-17) and at Penn State (22-10) before dropping a home season finale to Minnesota (37-15),

For Miami, a bit of a different route—but one that ended up in as miserable a place. The Canes got tagged in the opener against LSU in Dallas, but responded with a five-game win-streak that started to show some momentum—capped with a home comeback against Florida State; one where a second-string quarterback looked to have supplanted a starter, giving a slow-to-start season some new life.

The jubilation was temporary as r-freshman N’Kosi Perry looked all the part of a newbie the following week at Virginia, yielding early to r-senior Malik Rosier in an eventual 16-13 loss—one that also injected a mid-season quarterback dilemma a Miami program scrapping back to relevancy certainly didn’t need.

Even more frustrating; the start of a social media disaster with Perry—one that is again rearing its ugly head days before the bowl game as three-month old sexually explicit footage is making its rounds.

Punished internally for a lame-brained video where Perry flashed wads of cash during the off-week after the loss to the Cavaliers—coaches haven’t announced the maligned quarterback’s status for bowl week, outside the announcement that Rosier will start on Thursday evening. In typical dramatic fashion, social media again has its hand in the narrative as Perry was heard day’s ago on a teammate’s live steam stating in the background that he was suspended for the bowl game.

(Editor’s note: Unpopular as it would be with players, it feels like the Miami staff needs to address the social media element in the room this off-season, as it’s proven to be a monstrous distraction this fall.)

Rosier held the reigns for most of the loss to Virginia and the entire loss at Boston College, a week after the bye—though Mark Richt went back to Perry in a rain-soaked, home loss to Duke; one where each quarterback looked as bad as the next and the Hurricanes were shut out in the second half.

Perry looked better in a road loss at Georgia Tech—though Miami’s offense was held in check much of the second half in what looked to be a winnable game.

Backs to the wall and scrapping for bowl eligibility a week later in Blacksburg, Perry was good enough in a team effort where the Canes outlasted the hurting Hokies. At home against Pittsburgh days later, smothering defense was the key to success—while Perry’s average outing was made worse by a slew of receivers who couldn’t hold on to the ball.

As if the Perry versus Rosier drama weren’t enough, true freshman Jarren Williams briefly flirted with transferring a week ago—while r-freshman Cade Weldon dealt with a four-game suspension mid-season and made no push to earn playing time.

Regarding that top-flight defense that finished second in the nation during the regular season? It’s architect Manny Diaz resigned from his defensive coordinator position early December, in favor of the head coaching vacancy at Temple—though Diaz will return for the bowl game and one more go-around with his squad, which could serve as a solid motivator based on the 34-24 beating the Badgers put on the Canes in last season’s Orange Bowl—despite Miami jumping out to an early 14-3 lead.

KEYS TO VICTORY — MIAMI

If Richt has a game plan in regards to his quarterback, no one truly knows what it is on the eve of the big game.

The decision to start Rosier is fine, should the trajectory be that of his decision-making earlier in the year against FIU—where the r-senior led a few drives, sputtered but didn’t crash, yielding to Perry midway through the first quarter—and sticking with No. 5 for the rest of the game.

With Perry in hot water and Williams not playing since mop-up duty against Savannah State early September—anyone who didn’t expect Rosier to be named starter is again going that over-emotional versus logical route. That said, unless No. 12 is somehow playing the game of his career and is moving the ball consistently against the Wisconsin defense, the exercise in going with Rosier must be short-lived. The future is now for Miami and there’s little reason for a r-senior to take valuable playing time from underclassmen who need the experience.

With Perry looking slightly above average on-the-field this season, while tanking off-the-field—this is an ideal game for Richt to see what he has under the hood with Williams; who based on all intangibles, looks more equipped to lead than his r-freshman counterpart.

Miami opens the 2019 season against Florida in Orlando. Zero reason that should be Williams’ first big-game action as there’s a ripe opportunity for playing time Thursday night in New York. Same to be said for Perry, obviously—as the r-freshman has not been suspended for the game, but lost out on the chance to start.

Gerald Willis will miss the Pinstripe Bowl with a hand injury, which makes sense as the senior is prepping for the NFL Draft and there’s no reason to make matters worse in a lower-tiered bowl game. That being said, the Hurricanes must come together one final time under Diaz—playing spirited, sound football and preparing to stop the run; which won’t be easy against Jonathan Taylor.

Taylor gashed Miami for 130 yards on 26 carries last go-around; though much wasn’t needed out of him as the usually mistake-prone Alex Hornibrook was flawless with a four-touchdown, 258-yard performance.

Hornibrook has only played two of Wisconsin’s last five games and was ruled out of the bowl game with concussion symptoms, putting New York native and sophomore Jack Coan under center.

Taylor rushing behind a veteran offensive line; it’ll be the Badgers’ bread and butter come Thursday—so the Hurricanes’ front seven, sans Willis, better be ready to play.

As much as Miami must slow down the run, the Hurricanes will also have to find success on the ground and keep Rosier—or whoever is under center—out of third-and-long situations.

Travis Homer was ineffective the last time these two met; rushing 12 times for 64 yards—20 coming on one play—and a score, while DeeJay Dallas saw his best work in a wildcat formation, but didn’t make much noise outside of that.

Homer and Dallas are running harder and with more purpose this season, while freshman Cam’Ron Davis has been a welcomed addition down the stretch. Between these three, Miami will need to sack up and take it to Wisconsin on the ground, as it’s tall order for either an average r-senior or inexperienced freshman to put this team on its back, carrying the Canes to victory.

Lastly, the Hurricanes need to force Coan into the mistakes that weren’t made by his predecessor last time these two met. While Hornibrook was flawless, Rosier coughed up three interceptions in a game that fell apart when Miami’s defense gave up 21 points in the second quarter. Last year’s game was won by the team that made the least mistakes—so the Hurricanes’ defense better get after Coan with some disguised blitzing and force some sloppy play.

KEYS TO VICTORY — WISCONSIN

Riding Taylor to the promised land is the most-obvious and logical approach for the Badgers, as their quarterback situation is on par with Miami’s. As good as the Hurricanes’ defense has been this season, that side of the ball has gotten gashed by some big plays on the ground—players out of position, or arm-tackling.

Taylor oft shines bright on the big stage. Late in the season, his legs led Wisconsin to a triple-overtime victory at Purdue—where the senior went for 321 yards and three touchdowns.

Simple as it sounds on paper, if Miami can keep the running back winner in check, it’s a stretch to think that Coan is going to dissect the Hurricanes’ defense through the air.

Coan doesn’t need to be as big as Hornibrook was against the Canes last season, but will need to hit some back-breaking plays where he can, in effort to keep Miami’s defense on the field—taking a page out of Georgia Tech’s book, as the Yellow Jackets always seem to find a way to hit the important third-and-long late in the game when UM’s defense is run down for a long night.

Assuming Miami’s offense will struggle—their own worst enemy, as much as due to what Wisconsin will do to them—Coan keeping his offense on the field will at times be as good as actually scoring.

Conversely, whoever Miami has under center—Wisconsin’s defense has the luxury of knowing that quarterback play has been suspect and mistake-prone.

The Badgers had Rosier’s number last year, which should give them confidence—as would going up against either Perry, or Williams.

THREE MOST-IMPORTANT PLAYERS FOR THE CANES

**N’Kosi Perry / Jarren Williams — Despite Rosier getting the start, there’s no reason to believe Perry or Williams won’t see action. Perry’s recent social media gaffe dates back to September, he was reprimanded in October for IG story-related hijinks after the Virginia loss and No. 5 has been relatively quiet since.

Because of the nature of the three-month old video, seems coaches needed to something—though re-punishing him for the dated infraction seems egregious; unless there is more to the story, which could certainly be the case.

Rosier didn’t play against Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech and his last action was against Duke on November 3rd—which leaves his start feeling like more of a formality, than a coaching belief that he’s truly the better option.

If there’s more to the story and Perry is truly is out, sub Williams into this slot importance-wise. If it is Perry, a great opportunity here to put a disappointing run of immaturity in the rear-view and to start building his case to be “the guy” in 2019.

Stubborn has Richt has come off, have a hard time believing the third-year coach would ride with Rosier all game.

Travis Homer — A bit of an afterthought in last year’s game, Homer ran tough the final month of the regular season; 133 yards in the loss to Duke, 69 on the road against Virginia Tech and 168 against a sound Pittsburgh defense—on eight carries.

With his junior season coming to a close, this feels like a breakout opportunity for Homer to start his senior campaign now. Dallas could just as easily be “the guy” listed here, too—but have a feeling Homer is going to run hard, showing Wisconsin he can play tough, too.

Shaq Quarterman — With Willis, veteran leadership is needed within Miami’s front seven. Joe Jackson and Jon Garvin will bring that fire on the line but from that field general position—Quarterman will have to step up in that alpha role and keep the Hurricanes in sync regarding what Wisconsin throws at them. No. 55 has the opportunity to get through that line and hit Taylor for a few losses that could swing field position, or play-calling.

THREE MOST-IMPORTANT PLAYERS FOR THE BADGERS

Jonathan Taylor — Duh. When you have the reigning Doak Walker Award winner in your backfield, safe bet the offense is going to go through him. As mentioned, the Hurricanes’ run defense has been gashed for some big plays this year, despite solid all-around play.

Jack Coan — Another one that’s obvious and on the nose, but after seeing Hornibrook single-handedly help Wisconsin outscore Miami, 31-14 over the final three quarters of the Orange Bowl (while Rosier unraveled)—the importance of quarterback competence can’t be overstated enough. Coan doesn’t need a Hornibrook-like performance—he just can’t give it away like Rosier did last season.

Danny Davis — Going with the theme that the Badgers’ best defense is a good offense (banking on the Miami offense struggling), Davis can be a solid safety blanket for Coan. The sophomore receiver was Wisconsin’s leading pass-catcher four of their past five games—including a 10-reception, 93-yard outing in the season-ending loss to Minnesota.

THE PREDICTION : HOW IT SHOULD ALL SHAKE DOWN

Both teams can manufacture their laundry list of reasons they should will themselves to a ‘W’—closing the season strong, setting the tone for next years and all the other cliches one rattles off when trying to build a case, depending who they’re picking to win.

For the Miami enthusiast, the match-up seems somewhat reminiscent of final road trip of the regular season at Virginia Tech—two fragile squads in a staring contest and somebody’s going to blink.

The Canes got the jump on the Hokies—taking a three-point lead into the locker room, before blowing things out of the water with a 21-point third quarter and putting the game away.

Both Miami and Wisconsin have dealt with next-level disappointment five separate occasions this year; muscle memory all-to-familiar with losing. As much as both are working towards victory, the Canes and Badgers are both also working to avoid getting backed into that corner where doubt creeps in and games slip away.

If the Hurricanes are to pull this one off, they’ll need the defensive execution that was lacking in the Orange Bowl loss. Hornibrook played out of his mind—en route to MVP honors. That aberration of a performance was the difference in a Badgers’ victory. Miami’s defense simply can’t let Wisconsin have a player go off at that level; in this case, Taylor being that monster threat. Hold the sophomore back in check, that’s half the battle.

The other; a good enough offensive and special teams performance from the Canes. Starting with a three-headed monster at running back—as well as a few speedy receivers—Miami’s offense simply needs to play smart enough football.

Everything about this game screams low scoring (which means in bowl lexicon it probably won’t be)—so every possession counts. In a perfect world for the Canes, Rosier gets some early reps and soon yields to Perry (or Williams) and Miami finds its way to some early scores. Fall into an early hole and it’s setting up for Taylor to run at will and grind down that Canes’ defense.

Win or lose, a safe bet the overall focus will be on the heavily-scrutinized Richt and how he handles all offensive aspects of the game. Is the Rosier start truly a decoy, with either Perry or Williams getting necessary reps and a chance to showcase their talents for next season? Or does Richt ride with Rosier, keep it basic and hope to scrape out a victory?

Bowing to pressure isn’t Richt’s style. That’s a different article for another time and place. Still, how he handles the offensive side of this showdown, and what the result looks like—it means something based on how this season plays out as year three draws to a close.

In the end, Miami needs quarterback play that doesn’t give the game away and good enough production out of its three back. From there, it’ll take another next-level defensive effort—and possibly a turnover returned for a score—to set things in the right direction for the Canes.

Either team could pull this one out by the same score, but going to give “The U” the edge in Diaz’s last game—which should spring a spirited defensive effort.

Miami 20, Wisconsin 16

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