It looked like things were going to be easy for No. 14 Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Following an 84-yard kickoff return from senior Sam Shields, junior running back Graig Cooper rushed for a 16-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to give the Hurricanes (9-4) a quick 7-0 lead.
But it wasn’t until a little more than a minute left when Mark Whipple’s offense scored another touchdown as No. 24 Wisconsin held off a late UM rally for a 20-14 victory Tuesday night in Orlando at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Trailing 20-7 late in the fourth, sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, who finished with just 188 yards, found sophomore Thearon Collier in the end zone for the score. After the Canes recovered junior Matt Bosher’s onside kick, Miami turned the ball over on downs at its own 38-yard line when a pass for Collier fell incomplete.
Miami was 2 for 11 on third downs and failed to convert on three fourth downs.
“That was an exciting game tonight. I mean, that’s why you come to bowl games, opportunity to to get another victory,” head coach Randy Shannon said. “We had an opportunity late in the game to win it. That’s all you can ask for more from guys when they come out and come from behind.”
Earlier in the game, Harris was pressured often by the Badgers’ defensive line and missed open receivers on two deep balls. The Miami offense finished with 249 total yards.
“They had a good defensive line. They came with a lot of pressure. At the same time, I got to get the ball out a little bit quicker.” Harris said.
Sophomore running back John Clay scored two touchdowns for the Badgers (10-3), who controlled the clock for 39 minutes, 19 more than the Canes. They also had better field position.
“It does kind of change the game plan a little bit when you have to – you know, you’re playing against time, because if you don’t score they’re going to take about 10 minutes off the clock,” Harris said.
Junior quarterback Scott Tolzien threw for 260 yards and an interception. Junior tight end Lance Kendricks finished with a career-high 128 yards on seven catches.
With the loss, Miami failed to notch its first 10-win season since 2003. It is also the second straight season the team has lost in a bowl game, falling 24-17 to California in the Emerald Bowl.
“Things just didn’t happen our way. I can’t explain why,” Shannon said. “I’m proud of these guys for what we’ve been through for my last three years, you know, getting some guys in this program to believe that we can turn it around as a football program. This year they stepped up.”
Junior wide receiver Leonard Hankerson said that he will return for his final season.
Junior defensive lineman Allen Bailey said that he would probably return, but would have to talk with his “people” when he got home first.
Junior running back Graig Cooper left with seven seconds left in the first half with a knee injury. He did not return. There was no status on the injury from Shannon during the press conference.
57,747 people attended the game, mostly Canes fans, and was an all-time high for the bowl game.