MADISON — Jonathan Taylor wanted to make sure his performance from last week wasn’t forgotten, so matching his previous rushing total in the first five minutes of regulation did the trick.
After a slow first drive that ended in a punt, Taylor exploded up the middle for a 63-yard TD run, igniting the crowd and the Badger offense. One drive later, Taylor looked Melvin Gordon-esque, bouncing off four tackle attempts on his way to a 29-yard touchdown run, his second of a dominant first quarter. Coach Paul Chryst firmly believes Taylor can continue his high rate of production, saying,
“He’s mature, he’s a person with great focus. He wants to take full advantage of this opportunity. I think that he can potentially give us some big plays we haven’t necessarily had in the run game. He gives us depth,” Chryst said.
The defense allowed the Owls absolutely no room to build momentum early, smothering any offensive scheme FAU threw their way. ILB Chris Orr recorded a monster sack during the Owls’ second drive, which resulted in their second straight three and out. Chryst had high words of praise for Orr’s level of emotion and how deeply he cares for the game,
“Chris really enjoys the game of football, that’s why when [he] misses opportunities, that’s hard for him,” Chryst said. However, Orr won’t bring others down, but, rather, raise them up.
“It’s infectious for people around him, he’s fun to be around.”
Eventually, the Owls put together a scoring drive, executing a 63-yard touchdown pass on blown coverage by CB Nick Nelson and S Natrell Jamerson.
The Owl defense did find a rhythm as the game progressed, stifling a scoring opportunity for the Badgers at the one yard line. After going for it on fourth down and being stuffed, the Badgers were forced to turn it over on downs.
The Badgers next offensive drive, however, resulted in a 12-yard Troy Fumagalli touchdown out of a now common three-TE set. Hornibrook showed great poise in the pocket, allowing plays to develop when necessary, and adapting to plays in which he’d have to roll outside the pocket.
After an early incompletion on the Badger’s first drive, Hornibrook completed his next seven pass attempts, good for 88 yards during that stretch. That streak came to an end with a rushed pass attempt outside the pocket that resulted in a taylor-made interception, setting up an easy scoring drive for FAU who narrowed the Wisconsin lead to seven. Coach Chryst shared his perspective on how to handle such situations in the future,
“If it’s not there you gotta dump it, learn to play another down,” Chryst said.
Bad pass defense allowed a number of avoidable big plays from FAU that kept their chances alive during the first half. Leon Jacobs shared his concern with the pattern of big plays,
“We hold ourselves at a high standard, so we can’t have that happen,” Jacobs said.
That combined with a strong showing from the Owls defense gave the Badgers more trouble than expected.
At the half, the Badgers held an uncomfortably small lead of 10 after squandering a gift of a touchdown opportunity at the eight yard line.
The Wisconsin defense bounced back after the second half whistle, forcing a quick three and out which included an athletic pass deflection by CB Derrick Tindal.
Dropped passes continued to be an achilles heel, Jazz Peavy, Troy Fumagalli, and A.J/ Taylor all let big plays slip through their fingers. Catching passes shouldn’t have to be a point of emphasis for a team ranked #9 in the country, but it’s worth noting.
What seemed like another monster Jonathan Taylor run, in which he bounced off three tacklers, ended in a forced fumble with FAU on the recovery end. This was Taylor’s first career turnover, and came at a time when the Badgers desperately needed a score to pad their lead which, unexpectedly, felt in jeopardy.
But after a solid defensive stop, the Badgers controlled the ball in their own zone, grinding out a drive until they were well within the redzone. Jonathan Taylor continued to amaze, any first contact made with him didn’t faze his downhill running style. He hit the 200 yard mark with three minutes left in the third quarter, including his third touchdown of the day, delivering a much needed score to put the Badgers up 17.
With his 223-yard day, Taylor became the 4th Badger true freshman to rush for 200+ yards in a game, joining Badger legend Ron Dayne, who did it five times during the 1997 season. The playbook in the second half was fairly straightforward, Taylor, Taylor, and not to mention more Taylor. He showcased that he was more than just athletic, exploiting holes quickly all afternoon. Chris James played a change-of-pace role Saturday, entering the game sporadically. His production, however, was still high, rushing for 101 yards on 16 carries. The Badger rushing game netted 357 yards on the day, over three times that of FAU, who only totaled 106.
OLBs Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs were defensive menaces, recording back-to-back sacks that killed the ensuing FAU drive. Jacobs was everywhere Saturday, recording six total tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. The Badger linebackers were a high point, playing high energy, high involvement football all afternoon.
The Badgers defeated FAU 31-14, pulling away after an unexpectedly contested first half.
Overall, there were plenty of encouraging moments from the Badgers Saturday, Jonathan Taylor looked like an absolute beast and continued to captivate the Badger faithful, the linebackers remained central to a terrific defensive performance, and Alex Hornibrook, minus an ill-advised pass that ended in an interception, played with poise and maturity. However, the Badgers will have to address issues in the secondary and figure out how to limit dropped passes.
Defensive end Alec James put it best after the game.
“The positives are realizing the things we gotta do to get better,” James said.
Looking ahead, the Badgers take on BYU next Saturday at 2:30pm in Provo, the team’s first away game of the season.