Wisconsin Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor proved to be detrimental to the 59-10 victory over Utah State at Camp Randall Stadium, Friday night. The true freshman’s confidence and talent is causing a storm for the fans, and for the coaching staff.
Wisconsin running back coach John Settle told Taylor to be ready, and stay ready, leading into the Badgers’ season opener against the Aggies. Taylor did just that.
“That was my main goal coming in here in the first place was being ready for any situation that they call my number,” Taylor said. “Coach Sett told me to make sure I was ready to go.”
Taylor came into the season strong, boasting nine carries for a team-high 87 yards and one touchdown, averaging 9.7 yards per attempt. During the game, Taylor was the lead rusher, even after sophomore running back Bradrick Shaw carried twice as many.
Badgers head coach Paul Chryst was asked whether it was the type of performance he expected from Taylor, after he his strong performance during the preseason.
“I think that when you say, is this what you expected, that would be unfair,” Chryst said. “But I will say that no one was surprised by it. JT’s the one who had the big run in the start of the second half, and it was good.
“There wasn’t anything that he did tonight that surprised anyone on our sidelines. Yet I think it would be unfair to say we expected him to do that, but it was good having him. I thought that he ran well.”
Taylor was given the first carry of the second half on Wisconsin’s first offensive play, and the outcome shifted the entire rhythm of the game. The running back broke through a hole up the middle, slipped past a would-be tackler, and pushed down the right sideline for a solid 41-yard play. Followed was Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Troy Fumagalli, which put Wisconsin in the lead for the first time at 17-10.
“That was huge,” Hornibrook said of Taylor’s run. “He gave us a little spark there with his one big run, then obviously his touchdown. It was great to see him back there doing what he did.”
Taylor added, “We started off pretty slow in the first half. We definitely knew that we needed a spark, and I wanted to be the guy to give us that spark.”
Taylor showed off his physicality again in the third quarter, when during a play, he bounced outside a wall in the middle and ran 13 yards for a touchdown, allowing Wisconsin’s lead to increase to 24-10. The freshman also added an 11-yard run,when he avoided a shoestring tackle to gain a first down.
A few weeks ago, this type of performance may have even amazed UW’s coaching staff. Bradrick Shaw, Chris James, Taiwan Deal and Rachid Ibrahim all appeared ahead of the freshman during early preseason scrimmage. However, when junior running back Deal sustained a right leg injury during fall camp, Taylor saw more field time. It’s unsure if Deal will return to active status any time soon, which means Taylor could be a consistent starter.
“Once he got the ball in his hands, he was surprising everybody,” UW starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “He just needed some reps, and we just needed to see him out there, and then he kind of took the rest of it himself.”
Last year as a high school senior, Taylor set the New Jersey single-season rushing record with 2,815 yards, breaking the record held previously by Badgers tailback Corey Clement, who had racked up a total of 2,510 yards. Like Clement, Taylor made it clear that he could contribute early and often.
Taylor’s breakout performance could lead to a larger role within the Badgers offense, especially when coupled with a poor performance from junior running back James, where he lost a fumble and only received five carries. In nine carries, the running back showed why he went from the fifth choice at his position to co-starter.
The coaching staff at Wisconsin will have a hard time deciding how to split carries against Florida Atlantic this week, but Taylor has made sure the he’s included in the discussion.
Kristen Ashly is a senior contributor and editor at Nuts and Bolts Sports. You can talk college football, fantasy advice, and all things Stephen King with her on Twitter @KristenAshly.