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Ron Dayne. Montee Ball. Melvin Gordon. Those three names are synonymous with Wisconsin Badgers football, and the legacies they left behind are well known. Statistically, they’re the three best running backs in Badgers history. Jonathan Taylor wants to add his name to that list, and has the potential to finish above all three. He’s already produced a number of phenomenal games, with many more to come, and gets a chance to add another chapter to his own legacy this week against Michigan.
Jonathan Taylor: an all-time great
After two monster years as a freshman and sophomore, Jonathan Taylor’s looking to put his name in the Wisconsin and NCAA record books. Taylor’s 4,408 rushing yards put him fourth in school history behind Dayne (7,125), Ball (5,140), Gordon (4,915), and Anthony Davis (4,676). He’s also 68th all-time in rushing yards (Dayne’s first overall), and can move all the way up to fifth if he continues at his current rate. He’d be behind Dayne, Pitt’s Tony Dorsett, San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, and Texas’ Ricky Williams. The top spots are all in within his reach, but it becomes a matter of how long he stays.
Jonathan Taylor already received rave reviews from NFL scouts everywhere, and wouldn’t be a surprise if he left early. In terms of talent, he’s the best running back Wisconsin’s ever seen, and it’s not even close. His production would also match that statement if he decides to return after this year. If you’ve looked at his numbers closely, you’d be amazed at how good he’s been. Of the 29 games he’s played, only four of them have resulted in him rushing for less than 100 yards. He’s produced 14 games of 140+ yards, 10 of those were 180+, and seven those were 200+ yards. His career high for rushing yards in a game is 321. As he heads into Saturday, he faces a test that can help cement his legacy as one of the greatest running backs of all time.
Taylor and Wisconsin vs. Michigan
Saturday presents a tough challenge for Taylor and the Badgers. Michigan’s dominated this series overall (51-15-1) and recently (won 33 of the last 41 meetings). A stingy Wolverines defense awaits, but Wisconsin fans shouldn’t worry too much about their star back. Since 2017, Michigan’s only had six games where the opposing starting running back rushed for 100+ yards. Taylor’s done it twice. It will be a battle up front for Wisconsin’s offensive line, but Taylor will do his job and make it a third time eclipsing 100 yards. It comes down to the passing game, which is something the Badgers star has worked on in the offseason.
Every year, Wisconsin’s success has come down to the consistency of the quarterback. Last year, Alex Hornibrook struggled mightily against Michigan and made too many mistakes. Taylor was also not a part of the passing attack. One thing Paul Chryst realized was they need to find more creative ways to get the ball in his hands. In the last two years, Taylor’s caught 16 passes for 155 yards and zero touchdowns, while this year he’s already caught five passes for 65 yards and three touchdowns. If he’s already a menace to tackle when he’s running within the tackles, imagine what Wisconsin can do getting him the ball in space against smaller players. That plays a huge role in this weekend’s game.
Jonathan Taylor’s legacy
Jonathan Taylor’s already one of the best backs to ever play college football, and he gets (at least) one more year to add to his legacy. He’s played an important role in the Wisconsin Badgers offense, but can add to his legacy with the evolution of his game. Wisconsin’s playing at a high level early in the season, and a win over Michigan would vault them into the playoff conversation. A strong performance from Taylor will play a huge role in determining the outcome, and give NFL scouts more to love.