Taylor rushes for pair of TDs, Badgers beat Western Kentucky

MADISON, Wis. — Jonathan Taylor had two long touchdown runs, Alex Hornibrook threw for 257 yards and two scores and No. 4 Wisconsin opened the season with a 34-3 victory over Western Kentucky on Friday night.

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A young defense working in seven new starters forced two turnovers inside Wisconsin’s 5 . A.J. Taylor paced the short-handed receiving corps with five catches for 85 yards, while Garrett Groshek turned a screen pass into a 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 31-point lead.

The Badgers finished with a flurry, scoring on five of six drives after punting on three of their first four possessions.

Leave it to Jonathan Taylor to get the offense going. He finished with 145 yards on 18 carries, even watching most of the fourth quarter from the sideline with the game well in hand for Wisconsin. He also lost a fumble in the third quarter.

Taylor “had a couple big runs, and yet … there’s things that he’ll see and I think he knows now he can clean up and go,” coach Paul Chryst said.

The dynamic back picked up where he left off last year, when he rushed for an FBS-record 1,977 yards as a freshman.

Three tight ends and the Badgers’ burly offensive line helped spring Taylor for a 47-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

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“He gave us a heck of a spark, and that first touchdown he didn’t do it alone,” Chryst said. “There were a lot of guys that made that happen.”

Taylor scored from 30 yards with 3:48 left in the second quarter as the Badgers closed the first half with 14 unanswered points.

He had 100 yards and 11 carries by the half, when the Badgers held a 24-0 lead.

“You look at that team and it’s a complete team in every way, shape and form,” Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford said.

Drew Eckels was 15 of 26 for 167 yards in his first career start for the Hilltoppers, while also running for 38 yards on seven carries.

Known as a passing team last year in Sanford’s first season, Western Kentucky tried to keep Wisconsin off-balance early with read-option plays.

It didn’t really work. The Hilltoppers punted on the first six possessions, including four three-and-outs.

A trick play flopped, too, when receiver Quin Jernighan’s fluttering pass for Eckels from the 10 was picked off by cornerback Faion Hicks in the third quarter.

Preseason All-American linebacker T.J. Edwards had seven tackles for the Badgers.

THE TAKEAWAY

Western Kentucky: The defense posed an early challenge up front with pressures and blitzes against Wisconsin’s vaunted line. Hornibrook was sacked three times and missed a couple throws to open receivers in the first half. But a Conference USA team picked to finish fifth in its division couldn’t take advantage of the Badgers’ slow start.

“I did like a lot of things, starting with the way they fought against the best offensive line in the country and the best running back in the country hands down. It was something to be seen,” Sanford said.

Wisconsin: A young secondary featuring three first-year starters had a solid opener. Safety Scott Nelson, in particular, played well with seven tackles and two pass breakups, and showed a propensity to deliver hard hits. Hicks, a fellow redshirt freshman, finished with three tackles. It was a confidence-building night for a unit that will face tougher tests later this season.

UP NEXT

Western Kentucky: Hosts Maine in home opener on Sept. 8

Wisconsin: Hosts New Mexico on Sept. 8 in the second of three straight nonconference home games.