MADISON — The stat line: 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per carry. For any running back, that is an impressive stat line. For a freshman, it is astounding.
With his amazing performance against Florida Atlantic University on Saturday, Jonathan Taylor joined the company of Wisconsin legend Ron Dayne as one of four true freshman running backs to rush for over 200 yards.
Taylor’s performance, shocking to some fans who just learned his name last week, was nothing out of the blue for his teammates.
“That’s baller man, you saw the stat sheet, we knew since camp. The first play in summer camp he broke out a touchdown against our defense,” senior defensive end Alec James said.
He looked nothing like a true freshman going into his second career game and having never started a college game. Post game, head coach Paul Chryst raved about Taylor’s maturity and focus that he showed all summer and has continued to show into the regular season.
“He is mature and I think he is a person with great focus and wants to take full advantage of this opportunity,” Chryst said.
The maturity Chryst hit on showed post game when Taylor was asked what he would remember most from his first career start.
“What I remember most about today, it would have to be the little things. You know, ball security, just not having one guy take me down. Just little things that coach Settle talks about at practice,” Taylor said.
Just minutes after a game he rushed for over 200 yards and three touchdowns, an amazing memory for a first career start, Taylor was focused on the one fumble he had and tackles he thought he should have broken.
During the game, Taylor showed the confidence and resilience of an upperclassmen. After getting stuffed on the goal line earlier in the game, Taylor came back on a later drive and busted a goal line run to the outside to get into the endzone.
“On the goal line, a lot of blitzes and a lot of pressures coming. Definitely going to work on that a lot at practice,” Taylor said. “That was my first time in a game situation and on the goal line having to punch it in. But made sure the second time on the goal line I made sure I responded.”
Taylor is going to need to clean up the mistakes as defenses will take notice and will now have ample film to use on him. Backfield co-starter senior Chris James let Taylor know just that after the game.
“You know I just told [Taylor], as a group, we’re just scratching the ceiling. We’re no where near where we need to be so you had a good game today, but from this point forward, everybody knows about you,” James said.
It finally seems, after a few years of stagnant run games, that Wisconsin is back to having absolute dominate running backs. While that obviously bodes well for the run game, it also opens up the offense as a whole as defenses over compensate.
“The way we were running with [Taylor] and Chris, that’s big because they’re going to be stacking the box. So that’s more opportunities for us too so as long as we keep flowing together and rolling together we’ll be fine,” freshman receiver Danny Davis said.
When asked about if he is starting to think about past running backs who have played at Wisconsin and if he has started to compare himself, Taylor seemed more focused on just playing the game he loves.
“I’m just out there having fun. On the wall as we’re coming out of the tunnel it just says ‘Have Fun, Play the Game,’ you gotta be grateful you’re here,” Taylor said.