EVANSTON, Ill. – The only real constant for an underachieving University of Wisconsin football offense this season has been Jonathan Taylor rushing for at least 100 yards every week.
He didn’t even come close to reaching that mark in the No. 20 Badgers’ 31-17 loss to Northwestern on Saturday afternoon. That wasn’t even the worst part for the sophomore tailback on a forgettable day at Ryan Field.
Taylor finished with 11 carries for 46 yards, the second-lowest output of his career in both categories. He entered the game with seven consecutive triple-figure yardage games – including a pair of 200-yard performances – to open the season.
There was little doubt that UW coach Paul Chryst would try to get Taylor going early in the game with sophomore quarterback Jack Coan making his first career start in place of Alex Hornibrook (concussion).
UW won the toss, elected to receive and fed Taylor four times in row to start the game. He’d register only seven carries the rest of the game – for a variety of reasons – and finished with his lowest yardage total since a 41-yard performance vs. Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last season.
The Wisconsin Badgers fell to the Northwestern Wildcats, 31-17, on Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
Sophomore Garrett Groshek finished as UW’s leading rusher with 68 yards on seven carries.
“Really frustrating,” UW right tackle David Edwards said after UW finished with 165 yards on 32 attempts, “just because our plan was to hopefully take some pressure off Jack, this being his first start, and I don’t think we did a very good job of that.”
One reason Taylor’s carry total was his lowest since getting nine attempts in his UW debut against Utah State was that he had trouble holding on to the ball, an issue throughout his otherwise spectacular career at UW.
Taylor was credited with two lost fumbles against the Wildcats, raising his total to four this season and 10 in his 22 games with the Badgers.
“You never want those things to happen,” Taylor said. “You work all the time on it all week, you do the ball-security drills. That’s why you work for it not to happen.
“You know you’ve got to flush it. And it’s definitely tough to flush it, but all the greats, they flush it, they have the next-play mentality so that’s the approach I try to take.”
Taylor’s first fumble was the result of a bad exchange on a handoff from Coan. It appeared Taylor never had control of the ball before it fell to the ground and was recovered by Northwestern’s Trae Williams.
The Wildcats took advantage of the short field, and Clayton Thorson scored on a 5-yard run to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead with 3:44 remaining in the first half.
“It was a running-back quarterback exchange,” Taylor said. “Jack took first-team reps all week. We were comfortable. It’s just about being on the same page and make sure that’s crisp and clean all the time.”
There was nobody to share the blame with on Taylor’s second fumble. Wildcats linebacker Paddy Fisher poked the ball loose as Taylor was falling to the ground on a 5-yard run, and Montre Hartage recovered at the UW 42.
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Northwestern once again converted the turnover into points when Charlie Kuhbander kicked a 26-yard field goal to extend its lead to 24-10 with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
Taylor carried the ball only once more after his second fumble. After ending the first quarter with seven carries for 28 yards – putting him on pace to keep alive his 100-yard streak – he had four attempts for 13 yards (and two fumbles) over the final three quarters.
“It was definitely tough today,” Taylor said. “We had a lot of good plays and a lot of big plays. And we also had times where we shot ourselves in the foot. I feel like that was a big part of today’s game was just self-execution.”