Paul Chryst seemingly never blinks. His emotionless sideline demeanor sticks out so dramatically against the tapestry of head coaching characters in the Big Ten. TV crews might as well skip the obligatory Chryst close-up after big swings in Wisconsin games and just use a stock clip of the 52-year-old Madison native, resplendent in crew-neck warm-weather gear, calmly directing his team.
We make jokes about his monolithic public persona to distract ourselves from the sobering reality that Wisconsin as a program will never stop being Wisconsin: sturdy, disciplined, homegrown, efficient. The 2017 Badgers proved to be an especially pure distillation of these values, going 12–1 in the regular season with just a few plays against Ohio State separating them from a College Football Playoff appearance.
And of course, if Chryst and the Badgers never blink, that means more often than not the opponent does. And in Wisconsin’s 34–24 Orange Bowl win over Miami, when the Hurricanes blinked, they were never quite able to readjust their eyes.
Miami led 14–3 in the first half, and then all of a sudden found itself down 17–14, with Wisconsin driving to add onto its lead in the final seconds of the first half. With the tide turning, Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt did something he almost never does. Mark Richt got really, really mad.
Richt appeared to be heated over an uncalled hold on Badgers right tackle David Edwards on defensive end Trent Harris, but his disproportionate response—shoving away an assistant who tried to restrain him, then grabbing an official as he vented his frustrations, then walking off into the locker room seven words into his halftime interview with ESPN’s Molly McGrath—sealed the Orange Bowl for the Badgers, who kept coming at a Miami team that had grown accustomed to putting opponents away with a knockout punch, either very early or very late in the action.
After Miami came out of the gate flashing the swagger that propelled them to an 11–2 regular season, forcing a fumble on Wisconsin’s opening drive, it was the Badgers who more efficiently capitalized on mistakes by turning two of Malik Rosier’s three interceptions into 10 points to bridge that early gap. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook rebounded from a shaky Big Ten title game performance with his most impressive effort of the season, considering the stakes and the quality of opponent. Hornibrook finished 23 for 34 for 258 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, spreading the ball around to six different receivers before hitting tight end Troy Fumagalli for a pair of critical first downs on the scoring drive that put Wisconsin up by 10 with half a quarter to play.
Miami was buoyed by unlikely heroes all year, from the many and varied wearers of the now-world-famous Turnover Chain to little-used Darrell Langham, who stunned FSU and Georgia Tech with last-second game-sealing catches.
On Saturday night, Wisconsin was the team who found a gamebreaker out of nowhere: Freshman receiver Danny Davis III, who caught only 21 passes and two touchdowns all season, hauled in three scores on Saturday. Even senior fullback—of course, a fullback—Austin Ramesh rose to the occasion with a highlight-reel hurdle of a would-be tackler in the first half.
As for the opposite sideline, Saturday was far from the first time Richt has shown emotion—he blew up at his own players in September for pantomiming digging up the Florida State logo after a last-second win in Tallahassee—but it’s one of the few times in his long and decorated career he’s strayed from the path of the righteous. Richt is not the first and won’t be the last to know the unique frustration of losing control in the face of Wisconsin’s unrelenting sameness.