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Wisconsin’s two Taylors tame Lobos in win

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Two of the Badgers’ best playmakers came up big vs. New Mexico.

Matt Fleming

MADISON — Two Taylors, A.J. and Jonathan, acted like a potent form of TNT (T-and-T, to be precise) this weekend, exploding inside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday to help Wisconsin pull away from New Mexico in a 45–14 win.

“That Taylor, something about it. I don’t know,” A.J. said after the game. “We’re not related, but there’s something about that last name that gives you something, gives you a little pride here, huh?”

Against the Lobos, Jonathan rushed for a career-high 253 yards and three scores on 7.7 yards per attempt while A.J. reeled in five receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown.

For A.J., the junior wide receiver, the highlights included a one-handed, 28-yard reception on Wisconsin’s first drive, a 10-yard touchdown catch, and a 44-yard catch in the third quarter.

On that one-handed grab to move the chains on a 3rd-and-6, Taylor admitted afterward that he “really wasn’t thinking.”

“I thought it was going to be a little further than it was so I was slowing down to jump for it, and I guess the guy had my hand, so that’s the only hand I had,” Taylor said. “I decided to just go for it, and it ended up working out.”

On the touchdown reception, Hornibrook again looked to Taylor on a third down, this time from the New Mexico 10-yard line and Wisconsin only up 10–7.

“I knew the guy was playing a little bit of outside leverage, so I knew I could win inside if I just pushed at him a little bit,” Taylor said. “I ended up doing it, and he kind of stayed still and I cut it from him, and shoot, made the play.”

Consider this: Jonathan became the eighth Badger in school history to rush for over 250 yards in a game, and the first since Melvin Gordon in the 2015 Outback Bowl.

Among other notable stats for the Heisman hopeful include the fact that he has now ran for 100 yards or more in 12 of his 16 career games at Wisconsin, going over 150 yards six times and 200 yards four.

“He’s a great back,” A.J. said about Jonathan. “Yeah, he had a little bit of adversity, but we all do, and he overcame it and played really well.”

Jonathan said he knew at the end of the game that he gained a career-high in yardage, but also gave a solemn answer about fixing the mistakes he made.

“That was a good thing to get, to have a career day,” he said.

“But at the same time, you got to look at the film and correct things that are simple.”

Both Taylor’ have faced a hint of adversity early on this season. Against Western Kentucky, A.J. dropped one pass on a third down, and later in that game saw a deep pass and potential chunk play from Alex Hornibrook thread between defenders and hit off of his hands. He came back to haul in five passes for 85 yards against the Hilltoppers.

Saturday, on a 3rd-and-6 from the New Mexico 8-yard line, Hornibrook found Taylor over the middle, but the pass hit off his hands after being blanketed by a defender.

“That was a ball I definitely should have had,” A.J. said. “I missed the ball, but shoot, I’m going to keep playing the next play. It is what it is.”

For Jonathan, the first two weeks have continued a problematic trend that began last season when he was a freshman phenom—fumbling the football. In the second quarter on Saturday, he once again coughed up the ball (as he did the week earlier). A prime scoring opportunity highlighted by Alec Ingold’s 39-yard run was nullified.

When asked if the lost fumble gives him an “urge” to run the ball in a more protective fashion that could alter his running style, Taylor responded it could, but he noted the mentality of moving forward.

“That can come up from time to time, but one of the biggest things is having short-term memory,” he said. “So you got to kind of flush it, but get back to your fundamentals, things that you’ve learned and worked on during the week. That can tend to happen, but one of the biggest things is having short-term memory.”

Jonathan added that he does spend “a lot of time” working on improving his ball security.

“That’s No. 1, ball security is always No. 1. Can’t do anything without the ball, so that’s definitely something we’re going to be working on going forward.”

Against Western Kentucky, Taylor did not receive a carry after his initial fumble. That was with over three minutes left in the third quarter. On Saturday, his slip occurred with less than 10 minutes remaining until halftime.

Wisconsin would return to Taylor on the next drive, however, with the New Jersey native scoring the first of three touchdowns on a 16-yard run for the go-ahead score. He went on to rush for 203 more yards on 22 carries with three touchdowns the rest of the way.

According to A.J., Jonathan has a “mental strength” that could push him past the early issue.

“Because he’s a mentally-tough dude, and he’s a great athlete, those two combined make for an unstoppable guy.”

Hornibrook pointed to another important characteristic.

“I think he just trusts himself, so whenever something happens, whenever adversity strikes, he’s ready to go,” Hornibrook said. “I think a lot of guys are like that on this team.”