Taylor's three touchdowns help Badgers beat Rutgers 31-17
MADISON, Wis. — The play was supposed to go one way at the line of scrimmage. Jonathan Taylor went the other.
Same desired result for Wisconsin: a touchdown from the nation's leading rusher.
The star sophomore rushed for 208 yards and three scores on 27 carries, spearheading the Badgers smash-mouth attack in the second half to run away from Rutgers for a 31-17 win on Saturday.
"The things that he does for our offense speaks for itself. He's a great player and does a lot of good things," right tackle David Edwards said.
Especially after the Badgers (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) lost starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook at halftime with a head injury.
All backup quarterback Jack Coan had to do in the third quarter was hand off to his running backs.
The Badgers had 13 plays, all runs, for 163 yards in the quarter to turn a 10-0 halftime lead into a comfortable 24-3 advantage. Taylor, who had 27 carries on the day, scored on runs from 38 and 18 yards in the third.
"The second half, we misfit some run pressures. He got on us for some big plays because of that," Rutgers coach Chris Ash said.
Taylor even surprised Edwards on the 18-yard score with 43 seconds left in the third.
"When he took that power play backside and I felt him go past me, I was like 'What is happening right now?'" Edwards recounted. "That never, ever happens."
Ryan Connelly led a strong effort from the front seven with eight tackles, while Andrew Van Ginkel blocked a field-goal attempt for Wisconsin, which gained bowl eligibility.
Wisconsin had the edge in talent over the Scarlet Knights (1-8, 0-6), the only team still winless in Big Ten play. Still, the first half had the sluggish pace of a nonconference game in early September.
Saquon Hampton picked off Hornibrook twice in the first half. The defense also held Wisconsin scoreless after a drive that started at the Rutgers 41 set up by D'Cota Dixon's 34-yard return of Van Ginkel's blocked field goal.
Running back Raheem Blackshear had eight catches for 162 yards and a touchdown to lead Rutgers, often getting chunk plays on screens or short passes as the Badgers tried to swarm freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski.
"He can do everything, pass block, he can run, he can catch the ball. We should definitely build off him," Sitkowski said.
Blackshear also ran for 38 yards for 10 carries to give him 200 yards of total offense on the afternoon. Sitkowski was 20 of 39 for 261 yards but absorbed several hits from unblocked defenders.
Rutgers finally got its first touchdown with 8:14 left on Jonathan Hilliman's 1-yard run to get within 14.
Rutgers: Trailing just 10-0 at the half might have been victory enough for the Scarlet Knights. Despite a big day by Taylor, the defense limited the Wisconsin passing game. Rutgers has allowed an average of 24.5 points over its last games, when coach Ash has taken a bigger role in defensive planning, after giving up 40.8 over its first six losses.
"We haven't made any changes," Ash said. "We just tried to get the guys, their attitude and their effort to show up and that's really been the difference."
Wisconsin: Hornibrook was 7 of 16 for 92 yards before leaving at the half with a head injury. His first pick came after trying to loft a pass to tight end Kyle Penniston, who had defenders behind him and an in front of him. The second interception came on a late throw on an out patter, with Hampton making an athletic grab. Coan was 5 of 7 for 64 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to receiver Danny Davis. The sophomore needs every snap of experience he can get if he'll be needed to start next week at Penn State.
Hornibrook got hurt on the last play of the first half after being sacked. Coach Paul Chryst said that he held out after being evaluated at the half.
Hornibrook missed last week's loss at Northwestern while in the concussion protocol.
"That's the biggest concern right now, is where Alex is with his health, and then Jack continuing to work and improve," Chryst said.
Rutgers: Hosts Michigan on Nov. 10.
Wisconsin: At Penn State on Nov. 10 for first trip to Beaver Stadium since 2012.