Thursday, Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Yankee Stadium, the Bronx, New York
Free NCAAF Pick: Hurricanes ATS
Best Line Offered: 5Dimes
Former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has become Temple’s new head coach, but will remain with Miami for the Pinstripe Bowl. Although he has to recruit for Temple, the Hurricanes will still be prepared. Miami promoted defensive assistant coaches Ephraim Banda and Jonathan Patke to co-defensive coordinator. Miami’s new co-coordinators can still succeed because they know Miami’s system. Similarly, Clemson’s offensive coordinators had been position coaches without previous coordinator experience and they have succeeded because they know Clemson’s system.
At stake for Miami is revenge for last year’s 34-24 loss to the Badgers in the Orange Bowl. It will continue its “revenge tour” after beating Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale. Wisconsin, like Miami, suffered a majorly disappointing regular season. Wisconsin’s was capped off by an embarrassing defeat against rival Minnesota. It may struggle to find motivation for an opponent that it already beat last year in a bowl game that was high-profile. Although Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is 3-0 SU and ATS in bowl games, we have yet to see how he does at the end of a disappointing season.
How They Got Here
Miami lost to four straight ACC opponents, averaging 15 points during that span, but concluded the season by blowing out Virginia Tech on the road and Pittsburgh at home. Its biggest problem was finding a reliable quarterback. N’Kosi Perry and Malik Rosier couldn’t even complete 54% percent of their passes. Wisconsin bullied its weak opponents, but lost to BYU and by double digits to four different conference opponents. Held back by deficiencies on defense, Wisconsin allowed 30+ points three times, which it had done only twice in Chryst’s three previous years at Wisconsin (not including overtime).
Why Miami Can Win/Cover
Wisconsin’s run defense ranks 68th in opposing YPC. The Hurricanes rank top 50 in run-play frequency and 25th in accruing 5.1 YPC. Travis Homer averages 6.3 YPC and DeeJay Dallas 5.8, and both are capable of breaking big plays. The Badgers will miss second-leading tackler Ryan Connelly due to injury. They already miss their two best outside linebackers and defensive ends who departed during the offseason and they’ve been especially weak in establishing the edges. Wisconsin is 1-5 ATS when allowing 150+ rushing yards.
Why Wisconsin Can Win/Cover
Doak Walker award winner Jonathan Taylor has run for 1,989 yards and 15 touchdowns on 7.1 YPC. He achieved three 200-yard rushing games plus a 300-yard game. He accrued 101 yards and 5.9 YPC against a Michigan run defense that averages 3.4 opposing YPC. Miami won’t shut him down, especially without injured defensive tackle Gerald Willis there to counter Wisconsin’s veteran, top-ranked run-blocking unit. Wisconsin will feed him the ball especially as long as the game stays close. Miami will be largely one-dimensional on offense with its poor quarterback play and it can be hard for an offense to pull away just by running. When Miami failed to cover once in five games from October 13 to November 10, it failed to pass for more than 204 yards and it allowed more than 130 rushing yards four times.
Common Opponent/Series History
Towards the end of last season, Miami’s pass defense suffered a meltdown, allowing opposing quarterbacks to produce season-best numbers. In the Orange Bowl, Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook completed 67 percent of his passes and threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns. Hornibrook’s numbers have gone down this season and he will struggle against Miami’s fourth-best pass defense in terms of opposing passer rating. Wisconsin’s downgraded defense won’t get off the field as easily, and Hornibrook without departed star tight end Troy Fumagalli won’t be as effective in sustaining drives. The Badgers’ struggles with time of possession help explain why it ranks 69th in second-half points per game. Even against last year’s highly-ranked Wisconsin run defense, Homer and Dallas averaged 5.3 and 8.6 YPC, respectively.
The cold weather issue is overstated. When Miami was suffering its losing streak, it lost at home as well as away and then won in Virginia. Motivation is a bigger topic and Miami’s coaching staff can use last year’s bowl loss. The matchup favors Miami because it can pursue its strength on offense against Wisconsin’s run defense that allows 4.76 YPC against FBS-winning teams, which ranks 75th. Miami’s ranks 19th. It hasn’t faced a Jonathan Taylor, but did limit Pittsburgh’s two 1,000-yard rushers to 75 yards on 23 carries (3.2 YPC). Pitt’s rush attack ranks six spots behind Wisconsin’s in YPC.