The University of Wisconsin has a long tradition of great running backs. That’s no secret. To put Jonathan Taylor up with the likes of Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, and Melvin Gordon after five games would be irresponsible. That being said, he’s certainly on track to reach that level of greatness.
Taylor is already the best freshman back in the Big Ten, and may only trail Saquon Barkley of Penn State as the league’s best back. Barkley is a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender, and deservedly so. Taylor, while not quite in the forefront of the Heisman discussion, could very well find himself in New York for the trophy presentation in December if he keeps at his current pace.
He helped that cause in Wisconsin’s 38-17 victory against Nebraska in Lincoln in week six. Taylor rushed for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in his first taste of a Big Ten road game. Nebraska isn’t the easiest place to play at night, especially for a freshman. Taylor thrived in that difficult environment.
When Wisconsin needed a big play, Taylor was the one to step up. Nebraska cut Wisconsin’s lead to three points on a Tanner Lee 80-yard touchdown strike to Stanley Morgan, Jr. with 1:20 remaining in the first half. The Badgers needed a response to weather the storm in a hostile road environment.
On Wisconsin’s first offensive snap after the Morgan, Jr. touchdown, quarterback Alex Hornibrook took a shotgun snap from his own 25-yard-line and handed the ball to Taylor on an inside zone play.
11 seconds later Wisconsin was winning 17-7.
Few athletes in the country have the ability to change the game the way Taylor did against Nebraska. Even fewer freshman have that ability. Another that comes to mind in the Big Ten is Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins is a very talented freshman for the Buckeyes who burst on the scene week one with a big game against Indiana. While he certainly has a similar talent level to that of Taylor, Dobbins has lacked the consistency that Taylor has shown during his brief career.
In the biggest test of his young career, at home against Oklahoma, Dobbins was held in check with only 72 yards and a score. When the lights shined brightest, Taylor stepped up to the plate and delivered when his team needed him most.
This doesn’t mean that things cannot change, because they certainly may. Right now Taylor is the best freshman in the Big Ten, and he’s not very far behind Barkley for the best back. The sky is the limit for the true freshman from Salem, NJ.
“The offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks, receivers did a heck of a job,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said following the win over Nebraska. “I thought [Taylor] was special tonight.”
He was special, and he has been for a majority of the season for the Badgers. If Wisconsin is going to potentially win the Big Ten and participate in the College Football Playoff Taylor is going to need to continue to be special.
“I think he’s continuing to get better.” Chryst said.
That’s a scary thought for not only the rest of the Big Ten, but the rest of the country as well.