Ducks face tough test in great Wisconsin running back
LOS ANGELES — Wisconsin has a good defense, a big offensive line and a quarterback who can throw and run in Jack Coan.
But, let's face the fact, it's all about stopping running back Jonathan Taylor for the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl, 2 p.m. Wednesday at Pasadena, California.
If he stayed for his senior year, which he won't because he rates as one of the best running backs that would be in the NFL draft, Taylor would obliterate the NCAA career rushing record. San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey holds the FBS record with 6,450 yards, followed by Wisconsin's Ron Dayne (6,397).
The 5-11, 215-pound Taylor has 6,080 yards in three seasons — individual seasons of 1,977 as a freshman, 2,194 as a sophomore and 1,909 as a junior. He has 50 rushing touchdowns.
This season, he could top 2,000 yards again. He has 1,909 yards (6.4 per carry) and 21 TDs, and added five TDs on receptions.
Not bad for a guy who has not been a Heisman Trophy finalist in any of his three seasons.
Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has done a great job in his first year with Oregon. The Ducks are giving up 15.7 points and 329.6 yards per game, including 106.8 rushing yards on 3.2 yards per carry.
Some running backs have enjoyed decent games against Oregon, including Auburn's JaTarvious Winslow (110 yards, 24 carries) and Arizona State's Eno Benjamin (114 yards, 31 carries), but nobody has dominated the Ducks on the ground.
So we'll see how Taylor does.
"He's been blessed with a size-speed combination you don't always see, and his change of direction ...," Avalos said. "To go along with that, his vision is really, really good. Within their offense, they run multiple run schemes, whether it be zone schemes, gap schemes. And he does a really good job seeing and fitting all those things in, obviously working off the blockers. ... He's got really good read and react skills in terms of finding the holes.
"No question, this is the best back we've seen this year."
Taylor wasn't a Heisman Trophy finalist, though. Heisman winner Joe Burrow of LSU, Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and Ohio State's Chase Young and Justin Fields were finalists.
"It was tough. It was tough," Taylor said. "You look at the guys that were there, they definitely deserved to be there. They've been consistent. They've been balling all year. I would have picked those guys to go. It's a tough choice. That's why they have voters."
Playing for Wisconsin for three years has been satisfying enough, he added, culminating with the Rose Bowl. (The Badgers have won five consecutive bowl games).
"To do right by those guys, it's always good," Taylor said. "This is going to be awesome, especially the history with our program and the Rose Bowl. It's going to be something special, and we're going to make sure that we do right by the program and come out with a win."
As far as UO's defense, Taylor added that its speed will be tough to deal with.
"When you see a hole, you've got to make sure you hit it 100 mph," he said. "They're able to run sideline to sideline. So you've got to make sure you're very decisive."
Linebacker Troy Dye, he said, "is super athletic. He can get off of almost any block. You've definitely got to make sure you're using good technique with him."
Thomas Graham, UO safety, had some thoughts on Taylor:
"You just got to pursue to the ball and you got to gang tackle. He's a running back that is special in so many ways. I think he's like top five in the nation in broken tackles, and his offensive line blocks very good for him. So you've got to make sure to get off blocks. ... People don't know that he was a high school state champion in the 100 (meters), so it's not like he's just some running back that doesn't have speed. He's fast and he's strong."
Taylor has earned respect from teammates for his team-first and humble approach.
"He's steady, and he always brings a focus and an intensity to what he does, and he's just an absolute pleasure to be around," offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said.
Wisconsin has another strong offensive line, led by Rimington Award winner and center Tyler Biadasz. So, Taylor will have some help against the Ducks.
"What truly probably separates him is his hard work and just mentality," QB Coan said. "He's as nice a person as you'll ever find. Truly a genuine person and extremely humble with all the success. So, he's a special kid."
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