MADISON — Think back to your first week freshman year. You’re independent and gradually trying to figure your new life out, maybe expectations were weighing down on you already. Now think about that week, and add the fact that you have to perform in front of over 80,000 ballistic fans within your first weekend of college life. To any average student, this seems ridiculous, far too much pressure to handle early on. But to true freshman RB Jonathan Taylor, Friday night’s game was a moment to capture the city’s attention, and an opportunity he capitalized on gracefully.
Taylor lead the team last night with 87 yards rushing on only nine carries, one touchdown which should be on highlight reels everywhere after he literally bounced off the offensive line and redirected to the outside for the score, and a momentum shifting 41-yard carry that the Badgers desperately needed.
In tightly contested games, as Friday’s game was early, plays that alter the course of a matchup can be pointed to as the origin of an eventual victory. QB Alex Hornibrook had words of praise for the freshman running back, highlighting how crucial his play was to change the path of the game,
“He gave us a little spark with his one big run,” Hornibrook said. “It was great to see him back there doing what he did. He flipped the field for us and that was the biggest thing.”
For most fans, Taylor’s name on the depth chart felt like a placeholder, something used to motivate Shaw and James to step up their production and win the starting role. However, as always, fans and viewers are not in the locker room or on the practice field, so assumptions, however, logical, can be misplaced. This was the case among Badger teammates, all of whom were less than surprised that Taylor showed out.
Offensive tackle Beau Benzschawel perhaps put it most simply when referencing Taylor’s absurd touchdown run,
“Dude’s shifty, he can make stuff out of nothing,” Benzschawel said. “We knew in camp that he was special and that he would be a key contributor for us.”
On a more analytical note, Benzschawel emphasized how Taylor’s production combined with the ability of James and Shaw can be a real security to the OL. “We’ve got awesome backs, guys that you know when they get the ball they’re gonna do something special. That’s something, as an offensive line, that we really get excited about.”
Everyone around Taylor, including coach Chryst, have expressed how his performance was nearly an expectation. Chryst, who generally speaks rather simply, doled out a compliment that every devoted athlete yearns to hear from their coach.
“There wasn’t anything he did tonight that surprised anyone on our sidelines,” Chryst claimed.
Taylor took this statement to heart, reflecting on how rewarding it was to know Chryst has absolute faith in him even at the beginning of the year,
“That shows how hard I’m working in practice. It’s true, you practice how you play. It shows that coaches trust me.”
Unsurprisingly, with a player like Taylor, whom his teammates deeply respect, he was gracious as a recipient of such positive feedback. He noted that his expectation before the season started was to be the most ready he could be, and that should his opportunity arise, he’d be ready to confront the challenge that lay ahead,
“Three weeks ago my mindset was just to be ready when my number was called, so I can’t say I expected to be in this spot, but I was prepared for any situation,” Taylor said.
“All I could do is turn around and thank the boys that got me there.”
Last night’s game just goes to show that there’s more going on behind closed doors then may be expected. If Taylor can continue his high rate of production, as his teammates and coaches think he can, the three-headed monster of Taylor, Shaw, and James could be a dominant offensive for moving forward.