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Appreciating Jonathan Taylor’s 321-yard performance vs. Purdue

Let’s take a step back on what happened on Saturday.

Matt Fleming

Wisconsin and Purdue have played some insane games in the past 20 years.

Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees threw for nearly 500 yards in a 1998 contest that gave birth to the “Jump Around” at Camp Randall Stadium—but he also tossed four interceptions, including a pick-six to cornerback Jamar Fletcher in a 31–24 Badgers win.

In 2004, cornerback Scott Starks picked up a Kyle Orton fumble—one that he helped cause—and took it 40 yards for the game-winning score in the fourth quarter at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Add Jonathan Taylor’s performance in Saturday’s 47–44 triple-overtime road win to the list.

For the sophomore, Heisman-caliber back, the stat line read like this: 33 carries, a career-high 321 yards, and three touchdowns. Taylor recorded eight “chunk” plays of 10 or more yards on the ground, including three of 22 yards or more. Furthermore, 247 of those came after halftime, 80 coming on a touchdown run to kick off the second half and tie the game at 10–10. Six of those chunk plays came either in the third quarter, fourth quarter, or overtime periods.

Two of Taylor’s three touchdowns came in the extra frames, when a team’s best player should absolutely take over. His final score from 17 yards out ended the game with teammates rushing to celebrate in the Purdue end zone.

Though they weren’t touchdowns, Taylor’s 35-yard and 22-yard runs helped set up scores. In fact, both came on the opening plays of their drives.

Taylor creates a lot of yardage after contact and can accelerate into the deeper levels of the defense, and that was evident in Saturday’s comeback win. Those who blocked in front of him also stood out—this wasn’t just an individual performance. Cliché as it may be, football is a team sport and those blocking for Taylor helped open up holes for him to make those plays.

On the 80-yard run, not only did the offensive line create a gaping hole for Taylor, but redshirt sophomore Kendric Pryor sprinted down the field nearly side-by-side with Taylor to ensure a Purdue defender wouldn’t get the right angle to take his teammate down.

On the game-winning touchdown in triple-overtime, redshirt freshman right tackle Logan Bruss—making his first career start—worked up to the second level while redshirt senior right guard Beau Benzschawel stayed on his block to pancake a defender. Pryor and tight end Kyle Penniston also kept on their assignments just long enough for Taylor to accelerate into the end zone.

Overall, Taylor’s yardage against Purdue on Saturday ranks as the third-most in school history behind Melvin Gordon’s 408-yard performance against Nebraska in 2014 and Ron Dayne’s 339-yard outing against Hawaii in 1996.

Consider these stats as well, courtesy of UW:

With 3,846, Taylor has broken fellow Badger Ron Dayne’s FBS record for combined rushing yards as a freshman and sophomore. Taylor, Dayne (3,566 yards, 1996-97) and Georgia’s Herschel Walker (3,507, 1980-81) are the only FBS players to tally 3,500 rushing yards in their first 2 seasons.

Taylor recorded his 4th 200-yard game of the season. His 7 career 200-yard games are 2nd-most by a Wisconsin player, matching 2014 Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon (7). Only 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne (14) has recorded more in a UW uniform.

Taylor now owns 11 career games of 150-plus yards, including 6 this season.

Taylor has topped the 100-yard rushing mark in 10 games this season. Only Melvin Gordon (12 in 2014) has had more in a season for the Badgers.

Taylor has rushed for 100-plus yards 20 times in 25 career games. That matches P.J. Hill (2006-08) for the 5th-most 100-yard games by a Badger.

Taylor recorded his 5th multiple-touchdown game of the season, and the 8th of his career.

In a year where the offense has not met the expectations of many—especially with its passing attack—Taylor has shined. His 1,869 rushing yards through 11 games already rank sixth all-time by a Wisconsin back in a single season. He will continue to lead the nation in rushing yards per game (now up to 169.1) and is just 131 away from hitting 2,000.

Now it is Axe Week, with Minnesota coming to town on Saturday. Through 11 games, the Gophers average giving up over 170 yards on the ground per contest. Sometimes trends can be thrown out during rivalry games, and for that matter, Minnesota has not allowed 100 rushing yards in the past two games after firing its defensive coordinator. However, the Gophers contained a couple of rushing attacks in those contests that ranked in the bottom third of the FBS.

A big day from Taylor could not only help Wisconsin retain the Axe for the 15th straight season but also add more personal achievements to his proverbial mantle.

For now, appreciate the development of the sophomore back and look back on one of the more clutch, dominant running performances in Wisconsin history—a history that is rife with Badgers overwhelming opponents on the ground.