Jonathan Taylor Has Proven To Be A Primetime Player

Jonathan Taylor Has Proven To Be A Primetime Player

Football

Jonathan Taylor Has Proven To Be A Primetime Player

MADISON, Wis. – As Jonathan Taylor plowed through the Nebraska defensive line for two, three or four yards at a time in the opening half, the sophomore tailback was smart enough to know that he was going to be in line for a big evening.

How? Nearly every time he hit a Huskers defender in the chest, he could hear the groan of them knowing he was coming back for more.

“It’s most definitely a vibe you get,” Taylor said. “Missed tackles, guys hanging their head, so what you do is you go in your huddle and tell guys to keep punching, keep rolling and we’re going to get through this.”

Taylor read the situation correctly. In the first half of Wisconsin’s 41-24 victory over Nebraska, Taylor had 65 yards on 14 carries, a 4.6 yards per carry average weighed down by only one run over eight yards. By the time he left the field, Taylor upped his total to 221 after a second half in which he had four runs of at least 12 yards, including a career-long 88-yard scamper at the beginning of the fourth quarter. In typical fashion, he broke one tackle after about seven yards and stiff armed another defender before reaching daylight.

“It always comes down to execution and that execution is guys doing their part in it,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said of a running game that finished with 370 yards last weekend. “I thought they had confidence in the plan. I thought they did a great job of communicating to where all 11 were on the same page, and then I thought there were times when there was a good strain and there was a good effort to go along with the technique and execution. That usually is the case when you have success.”

Success tends to follow Taylor wherever he goes through his short career. Saturday marked his second 200-yard outing this season and his fifth in just 19 career games. He has also rushed for at least 100 yards in all five games this season, a reason why he’s the nation’s leading rusher averaging 169.8 yards per game.

“When you see you wearing your opponent down,” Taylor said, “it’s a big confidence booster.”

It’s almost guaranteed things won’t be as easy for Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) tomorrow night in Michigan Stadium. To this point, the 12th-ranked Wolverines (5-1, 3-0) lead the nation in total defense (230.5 avg) and are sixth in the N.C.A.A. in rushing defense, allowing 96.5 yards per contest. Michigan allowed a season-high 147 rushing yards against Maryland last weekend but held Nebraska (39 yards) and Northwestern (28) in check the two weeks prior.

Having registered 52 tackles for loss, an average of 8.7 per game, Michigan’s 14 tackles for loss against Nebraska is its highest known total since at least 1997.

“When you got a really good scheme and they have really talented football players,” Chryst said of Michigan. “They trust it and they trust themselves.”

There’s a lot of trust with Taylor, too. He has rushed for at least 130 yards in three of his four previous games against ranked opponents, including 132 yards in last November’s win over No.19 Michigan. Under the lights, Taylor has been even better, averaging 140.9 rushing yards in his seven career night games, scoring eight touchdowns and averaging 6.9 yards per carry.

If the Badgers play 14 games this year, and Taylor keeps his current pace, he’ll finish with 2,377 yards and 22 touchdowns, almost assuring him of getting invited to New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. For Taylor, another way to get noticed nationally is to keep racking up wins to get Wisconsin back in the College Football Playoff hunt.

“The Heisman stuff, that’s all at the end of the year,” Taylor said. “What matters right now is Michigan.”

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