Badgers keep ‘head on a swivel’ when blocking for illusive Taylor
MADISON, Wis. —Jonathan Taylor can go pretty much anywhere at any time when he has the ball in his hands.
That's trouble for any team that plays Wisconsin. And perhaps creates a little extra - but welcome - work for his teammates.
Always be aware of where the nation's leading rusher might be. He could break a long run on any carry.
"Knowing that, you've got be a on a swivel, you've got to know what you're doing," receiver A.J. Taylor said. "It's really about executing at that point. You execute it, he can do it."
Next up for the Badgers (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) is a visit to No. 21 Penn State on Saturday, a game that will allow Jonathan Taylor's family and friends to make the relatively short trip from his hometown of Salem, New Jersey.
"If I go back East, a lot more of my family members get to come. It's always a good time when they get to see you play," he said.
It would be even sweeter for the star sophomore if he could have another big game.
Taylor bounced back from a 46-yard outing on 11 carries in a 31-17 loss at Northwestern with 208 yards and three scores on 27 carries in a win over Rutgers last week. The touchdown run that had his even his offensive linemen talking was an 18-yarder later in the third quarter giving the Badgers a 24-3 lead.
"He took a power run backside and the last time I saw someone do that was Melvin," right tackle David Edwards said after the game, referring to former Badger and current San Diego Chargers tailback Melvin Gordon.
Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin's athletic, 6-foot-6 right guard, was pulling on the play in which he was designed to be a lead blocker.
Taylor had other ideas and sprinted to the right for the score.
"I was like, he wasn't behind me. He should have been behind me," Benzschawel recounted on Wednesday.
Not that he was really surprised by Taylor's move. He has been blocking for Taylor for nearly two seasons now.
"There's definitely a bag of tricks that he has," he said.
Averaging 151.4 yards a game, Taylor leads major college teams this season in both 100-yard games (eight) and 200-yard games (three).
The visit at Beaver Stadium would be a good time for Taylor to break loose again for Wisconsin. The Badgers have lost their last two Big Ten road games, at Michigan and Northwestern, to drop them out of first place in the West Division.
Taylor was limited by the Wildcats in a game in which starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook didn't play because he was in the concussion protocol. Hornibrook is in the protocol again this week after getting hurt again last week against Rutgers, leaving him questionable for the Penn State game.
Jack Coan would make his second career start if Hornibrook can't play. Wisconsin might need the sophomore to show he can move the ball through the air in a tough road environment to take at least some pressure off the running game.
Then again, the Badgers ran the ball for all 13 plays of the third quarter against Rutgers, after Coan reliever Hornibrook. They still played away for a win.
"We've gone against some guys that you know are going to get you the tough yards ... six or four yards or eight yards," Penn State coach James Franklin said Tuesday.
"We've gone against some guys that can take it the distance," Franklin said. "But it's hard to find a guy that can do all those things."
Taylor possesses the vision and ability to find a new hole quickly after one closes. He'll hear about it from his blockers, too.
And like any good running back, he's shows them gratitude, too.
"Sometimes I come back and O-linemen are saying 'Way to see it, JT,'" Taylor said. "It's always nice to get some appreciation from those guys knowing that I'm doing the best that I can to use their hard-earned work to the fullest and not waste it."