If I told you before the season began that Jonathan Taylor would be entering the Badgers’ bowl game with 1,989 yards, 15 touchdowns, an average of 7.1 yards per carry and 7.5 yards per reception, you would probably assume that the Badgers would be fresh off a Big Ten championship victory against Ohio State, and looking forward to an Orange Bowl date with No. 1 Alabama.
Well, sitting after the regular season at 7-5 overall, 5-4 in Big Ten play and waiting to play Miami (again) in the Pinstripe Bowl, it’s clear that those dreams didn’t come to fruition. Despite falling short of preseason aspirations, do not let the disappointing year overshadow how truly remarkable Taylor has been this season.
Graduating high school in 2017 as the 18th best player at his position, and only fielding offers from Wisconsin, Boston College, Virginia Tech and other lower Division I programs, Taylor entered school without the high expectations associated with being a top recruit. But it took him only two weeks to earn his spot in the national spotlight, rushing for 223 yards and three touchdowns against Florida Atlantic. He then continued to back up his breakout performance by rushing for 249 yards and two touchdowns against Nebraska, 219 yards against Purdue and 149 yards against rival Minnesota.
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Taylor’s freshman year as a whole was as impressive as they come, rushing for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns at an impressive clip of 6.6 yard per carry, good enough to break Adrian Peterson’s record for the most rushing yards by a true freshman in NCAA history. Seven months later, getting ready for the 2018 season, expectations were sky high for him and his team, with many analysts pegging the Badgers as high as fourth their preseason top 25.
As the 2018 season unfolded, despite a lackluster passing attack to complement Taylor’s proficiency on the ground, Taylor surpassed all expectations and then some, and is line to finish with one of the greatest running back seasons in Wisconsin history. Specifically, Taylor will enter the bowl game 11 yards short of 2,000, and only 120 yards short of Ron Dayne’s mark of 2,109 yards in 1996, the second greatest season a Wisconsin running back has ever had.
“It means a lot to be mentioned with those guys,” Taylor said. “[Melvin Gordon] is one of the best to ever run the ball here so to be mentioned with him, it’s something you kind of dream about.”
Taylor’s 2018 record breaking campaign began with a 145 yard, two touchdown performance against Western Kentucky in week one. He then continued with a 253 yard, three touchdown game against New Mexico in week two, and proceeded to rush for over 100 yards in all but one game during the season, that performance coming the only time he did not carry the ball at least 15 times.
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His season also received a bow tie Thursday night, as he was presented with the Doak Walker award, the trophy awarded to the nation’s best running back. Taylor is the fourth Badger to receive the honor, coming after Dayne in 1999, Montee Ball in 2012 and Gordon in 2014.
“I’m just appreciative of what my teammates do and what my coaches do each and every week to put us in the best opportunities to be successful,” Taylor said.
Taylor will return to Madison for at least his junior season. Now with 3,966 yards and counting through his first two seasons, Taylor has a chance to make history, as he’s currently on pace to break Ron Dayne’s career rushing record of 7,125 yards. Yet, despite his collegiate success, Taylor recognizes where his game will need to grow as he eventually transitions to the NFL.
“One of the biggest things you have to look at is consistency,” Taylor said. “What the coaches do to prepare us here is teaching us how to be consistent every single week, and I’m going to take that moving forward and use that to try to help me further my career”
Taylor will look to continue his dominance as the Badgers finish their season Dec. 27 when they take on Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City.