MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — When the Big Ten Championship game concluded in defeat for the University of Wisconsin on Dec. 2, Andrew Van Ginkel’s game-changing takeaways faded into the background of a loss that dashed the Badgers’ College Football Playoff hopes.
That night against Ohio State, the junior’s pick-six and forced fumble in the first half were crucial in UW’s attempt to climb back from an early deficit and even give itself a chance to win.
His interception in Saturday’s Orange Bowl against 11th-ranked Miami (10-3) became much more than a great effort in a lost cause.
With the sixth-ranked Badgers (13-1) sputtering towards a second straight defeat, Van Ginkel stepped in front of a wide receiver screen intended for Braxton Berrios on the Miami 23-yard line.
That three-second play turned the game upside down and sparked a string of 21 unanswered points for the Badgers in their 34-24 victory at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. The win was UW’s fourth straight in a bowl game and its 13th this season, a program record.
“That’s back-to-back (games) that he’s made great plays in these big-time games,” UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “He does it all day in practice, and he’s just an absolute spark plug.”
Miami totaled 153 yards and 14 points on its first three drives. The Hurricanes recorded minus-3 yards on eight plays over their next three — starting with Van Ginkel’s interception — all while UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw three straight touchdown passes to flip a 14-3 deficit into a 24-14 halftime advantage.
Danny Davis elevated over cornerback Dee Delaney for a 20-yard touchdown on third-and-7 after Van Ginkel’s interception, and Hornibrook found A.J. Taylor near the back corner of the end zone on UW’s next drive, giving the Badgers a 17-14 lead with 5:49 left in the second quarter.
The touchdown to Taylor marked Hornibrook’s 23rd touchdown pass of the season, the second most for a UW quarterback in a single season, trailing only the 33 Russell Wilson threw in 2011.
Perhaps Hornibrook’s most impressive stretch, however, came on his third touchdown drive. The sophomore completed a 10-yard pass to Taylor on third-and-7 before firing an impressive 21-yard strike to Kendric Pryor on third-and-11 after sliding away from pressure.
The latter moved the Badgers to Miami’s 10-yard line, and Hornibrook found Davis for another touchdown to put UW up 24-14 with 0:28 left in the half.
Hornibrook completed 10-of-12 passes for 114 yards over those three second-quarter possessions, and he connected on all six of his passes for 74 yards on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive. That march ended with yet another toss in the end zone to Davis, increasing UW’s lead to 34-24 with 7:44 remaining and essentially putting the game out of reach.
“The biggest thing was these receivers made plays for me,” Hornibrook said. “They were in man-to-man coverage a lot this game. Pretty much all the catches they had were against man coverage. They did a great job of winning, and the O-line gave me time to throw.”
Hornibrook’s four touchdowns were the most by a Badgers quarterback in a bowl game, while Davis became the first UW player to record multiple touchdown receptions in a bowl game, much less three.
By night’s end, Hornibrook, the game’s MVP, had completed 23-of-34 passes for 258 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I just think he was having a blast tonight,” UW left tackle Michael Deiter said of Hornibrook. “He’s always had that in him. It’s really sweet because the season he’s had, he’s had some days that weren’t he prettiest and he’s caught some heat for stuff. For him to go out like that, I think it just shows what kind of kid he is. ... He just needs to run with this momentum and keep getting better.”
Miami’s defense, which entered bowl season with more takeaways than any other FBS team, did initiate its team’s quick start by doing what it does best on the game’s first drive. Jaquan Johnson forced a fumble by UW running back Jonathan Taylor, who finished with 130 yards on 26 carries, but it led to a missed 53-yard field goal by Miami kicker Michael Badgley.
The Hurricanes moved the ball at ease on one of the country’s top defenses their next drive, going 75 yards on seven plays without facing a third down, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Travis Homer that gave Miami a 7-3 lead.
DeeJay Dallas forced missed tackles from Ryan Connelly, Natrell Jamerson and Dontye Carriere-Williams on his way to a 39-yard touchdown run from a wildcat formation to extend the lead on the Hurricanes’ next possession.
Van Ginkel’s interception came less than three minutes later, though, allowing the Badgers to take control and win their record 13th game.
“I don’t think anyone’s (won 13 games) that quietly,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “... This group has confidence in themselves and in each other. One thing you feel good about as a coach is they’re going to go play. They’re going to compete, and they kept doing that.”