Jonathan Taylor Sparks Wisconsin's Offense In 31-17 Win Over Rutgers

Jonathan Taylor Sparks Wisconsin's Offense In 31-17 Win Over Rutgers

Football

Jonathan Taylor Sparks Wisconsin's Offense In 31-17 Win Over Rutgers

MADISON, Wis. – Jonathan Taylor admitted that he entered Saturday with a chip on his shoulder.

Feeling largely responsible for the offense’s woes with his two fumbles in last week’s 31-17 loss at Northwestern, a defeat that likely will keep the Badgers out of the Big Ten championship game, the sophomore knew he had to respond in some form or fashion. Thankfully he delivered on both platforms.

The bright spot on another sporadic day for Wisconsin’s offense, Taylor rushed for 208 yards and touchdowns of 5, 38 and 18 in a 31-17 victory over hapless Rutgers at Camp Randall Stadium.

“After a game like that you always want to respond way better than you did the week before,” said Taylor, who once was verbally committed to Rutgers. “That was one thing I wanted to do. I wanted to make sure that I actually played my game. Coming off a game like that, it never leaves a good taste in your mouth.”

Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) has spent the better part of the season trying to figure out an offensive rhythm it could extend through four quarters. UW’s quarterback play remains inconsistent and too many drives go unfinished. So considering the Badgers spent the better part of another afternoon unsuccessfully trying to deliver a balance, how would things have turned out this year had they not had the luxury of handing the ball to the sophomore?

“Shoot, it would be tough,” receiver A.J. Taylor said when asked that question. “He’s always got the juice. He’s always got the energy in him. We saw it with him running. He’s a workhorse. We’d have to figure some other stuff out (without him). We have to do a lot of building, a lot of coming together. He helps bring it together.”

A week ago, Wisconsin saw what it can happen when the offense sputters and Jonathan Taylor has a rare off day. He was held to 46 yards against Northwestern’s front and fumbled twice, the second leading to a touchdown that effectively clinched the Wildcats trip to Indianapolis early next month.

He spoke in the dejected postgame interview room about learning from the performance and then flushing it, only using it as motivation for the next opportunity. The response was evident from the start, as Taylor carried the ball four times for 26 yards on the opening drive, punching the ball into the end zone from five yards out, and kept the offense moving from there with a 7.7 yards per carry average.

“The most impressive thing about JT was he stayed consistent,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “Consistent in his approach, consistent in his personality. He’s a worker. This team means a ton to him.”

To be fair, the Scarlet Knights (1-8, 0-6) are bad, having now lost eight consecutive games and 11 of their last 12. In the latest public relations disaster for the school, they kicked a reserve linebacker off their team earlier this week after he was arrested and charged in an attempted double murder plot, another black eye for the Big Ten.

None of that mattered to Taylor, who needed to get back on the right track with consecutive road tests upcoming at No.14 Penn State and Purdue.

His talent was on full display on one of his touchdown runs. A play that was supposed to be a power up the middle, Taylor saw a gap to his right, cut back side and slipped through the defense to make a tough run look easy. Right tackle David Edwards said the last time he saw somebody do something like that, his name was Melvin Gordon.

“(When you hear a compliment like that), it makes you think you are on the right track,” Taylor said. “You always hear the standard is the standard, and we want to be one of the best running back groups in the country. We have a plethora of examples of who were before us, and we’re just trying to keep the standard the standard.”

While Taylor did his job, and with full knowledge that the performance was going to come with a grain of salt considering Rutgers ranks last or next-to-last in nearly every Big Ten offensive and defensive category, Wisconsin’s ongoing offensive struggles remain and getting to the root of the problem remains a mystery.

Wisconsin opened the first half with Taylor capping a 65-yard drive and began the second half with Taylor finishing off an 88-yard one. In between was a mess that has become all too familiar to frustrated UW fans.

Returning to action after missing last week’s game (concussion), Alex Hornibrook threw two interceptions on poor decisions, one that forfeited quality field position and one that gave Rutgers a first down at the UW 34.

UW also had to settle for a field goal after an 18-play drive chewed up nearly nine minutes of game clock and squandered prime field position at its own 47 and Rutgers 41, both resulting in punts.

Hornibrook and the passing game never got the opportunity to respond when he was knocked out of the second half after suffering his second head injury in three weeks.

Jack Coan came in and the offense didn’t mess around, running 13 consecutive times to start the second half that yielded a pair of Taylor scores. Even when Coan finally did throw it, he found Taylor in the flat and watched him knife his way through the Knights for 30 yards.

“He’s special, he’s different, he’s unbelievable,” Coan said of his tailback. “There’s not enough words to describe him. I think the whole team is blessed to have him here.”

Where UW goes from here is unknown, especially now that Hornibrook is back in the concussion protocol for the second time in three weeks. To close the year with a flourish and climb back towards the top of the bowl pecking order, the Badgers need their offense to deliver in tough road venues.

Even though it was against a fleeting Big Ten program, Taylor showed himself and his teammates that games can be won on the ground.

“It’s essential after a loss that guys come together and you bounce back,” Jonathan Taylor said. “The way you do it is you work every single day in practice on the little details and minor things to make sure you come out with the win.”

 

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