LINCOLN, Neb. — If Jim Harbaugh is chasing him downfield in khakis, he’s on the cable highlight reels for the rest of the evening. If his last name is Barkley, they’re already engraving statues and clearing shelf space.
All Jonathan Taylor does is keep pounding out Heisman Trophy moments. And it’s past time the national media start keeping up with the Wisconsin Badgers’ jackhammer of a tailback.
Because, so far, defenses sure as hell can’t.
“I do remember we had a scrimmage and he broke a long run on us — it was like 75 yards or something,” senior linebacker Garret Dooley recalled after the Badgers’ freshman sensation gashed Nebraska for 249 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 38-17 rout Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“And it was on the ‘1’ defense and we were all kind of shooting ourselves in the foot, like we had a few missed tackles, which is something that we needed to clean up. We were just like, ‘That was the No. 2 offense, like, what’s going on?’
“Now we’re like, ‘OK, well, this kid’s a beast, so I guess it’s not as bad.’ ”
Because Taylor is doing it to everyone now. Day games. Under the lights. Madison. Provo. Lincoln.
Saturday night was No. 23’s second 200-yard rushing game in his first five outings as a collegian. A year ago at this time, he was shattering former Wisconsin star Corey Clement’s New Jersey prep scoring records. As of early Sunday, Taylor was leading the Big Ten in rushing yards (767), rushing yards per game (153.4) and rushing touchdowns (9).
‘He’s that good of a player, and I think we’re just really scratching the surface.’
— Wisconsin tackle Michael Deiter on Badgers tailback Jonathan Taylor
He ranks among the top 12 nationally in rushing yards, rushing scores and rushing yards per attempt (7.9). Taylor heads into mid-October netting almost 42 more yards on the ground per game than J.K. Dobbins, the wunderkind at Ohio State.
“[It’s] definitely surprising, but the guys give me so much confidence,” Taylor said. “The O-line, the receivers, they always give me so much confidence knowing that they have my back. All I know is I have to do my job and trust that those guys will do theirs. That’s one thing that Coach [Paul] Chryst talks about a lot, is trust the man next to you. And that’s how [things] come together.”
The Big Ten is loaded at tailback this fall. Penn State bell cow Saquon Barkley is the first line on every defensive coordinator’s scouting report, and he’s still piling up 217 all-purpose yards per contest. Akrum Wadley at Iowa (140.2 all-purpose yards per tilt) has NFL catch-and-run wiggles.
And yet Taylor, almost halfway through the season, can almost match them on home run explosions — breaking free for a 75-yard touchdown run on the Big Red late in the second quarter that snatched momentum back immediately after the hosts’ first score of the evening:
— Zach Stratton (@Zach_Stratton29) October 8, 2017
Bonus: It was No. 23 who put the Huskers to bed, pushing the pile — and at least one Nebraska defender — into the end zone from 2 yards out with 9:08 left, a touchdown that extended the Bucky lead to 30-17:
— 👻Phenomenal One J👻 (@PhenomenalOneJ) October 8, 2017
“He’s a really good back, runs hard,” Huskers linebacker Luke Gifford said of Taylor after the game. “He’s a thick kid, rocked up, and we knew he would be. We talked about tackling all week, just like [with] all the other backs. They have a lot of good backs. We worked on [it] all week and we had a few spurts there [where] we missed a lot of tackles that mattered.”
The fourth quarter mattered, and the Badgers made it immaterial. Wisconsin ran the ball 22 plays in a row during the final 15 minutes. Hey, when you’re averaging 7.2 yards a pop, why complicate things?
“Whatever it was, it was working,” Chryst explained. “I think you keep continuing [to run it] and keep the ball. It was a physical game and I think there is, there can be, that component to it.”
There’s context to it, too. Before Saturday night, the Huskers had held their past six opponents at home to an average of 59 rushing yards. In Wisconsin’s previous two trips to Lincoln, the Badgers had totaled 203 yards and averaged 2.7 yards per carry.
This time around? The visitors racked up 353 yards and ran for 3 scores.
That starts with the beef up front. But it ends with No. 23, lowering the boom.
“As you watch the game from the boundary there, it looked like we were holding it together there OK, for a time,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “And they’re persistent and they’re powerful, [with] a big, powerful back [who’s] good.”
Taylor’s 249 on the ground was the third-most allowed to one rusher by a Big Red defense. No. 1 is a Badger, too — Melvin Gordon’s 408-yard monster in 2014. Future Pro Bowler Jamaal Charles of Texas is No. 2 at 290. Good crowd. Damn good.
“There was one day in fall camp he surprised me,” tackle Michael Deiter said. “Ever since, it’s been stuff that I expected. He’s that good of a player, and I think we’re just really scratching the surface.”