As Simple as ‘Stop Jonathan Taylor, Win the Game?’

Ohio State Wisconsin Buckeyes Badgers

Wisconsin’s No. 1 defense is one problem for Ohio State, but another big challenge for the Buckeyes lies on the other side of the ball.

On Saturday, the Ohio State defense will face its biggest threat of the season in Badgers’ junior running back Jonathan Taylor.

Taylor, a Heisman Candidate running back, essentially runs Wisconsin’s offense. The Buckeye defense has the task of attempting to limit a back who is just one of three players to ever reach the 5,000 career rushing mark before his senior season.

“Why isn’t he good?” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said this week when asked why Taylor was a good running back. “He’s strong, fast, can change direction, powerful, guys bounce off of him, runs with an attitude. A lot of guys that big don’t have the agility he has. He has good agility. He can run away. He’s good out of the backfield. He’s caught the ball. He’s kind of an all-purpose back.”

The 5’ 11” and 219-pound back is No. 1 in the country in rushing touchdowns with 15 on the season and No. 1 in the country in scoring, averaging 16.3 points per game. Taylor is also No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards per game (136.7) on the season. He is just 10 yards ahead of Ohio State junior running back J.K. Dobbins, who sits at No. 4 in that category.

“I don’t know if people realize I think he ran a 10.4 something. He was the state champ in New Jersey in the 100,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said this week. “He may not look like that all the time until you see him break and see somebody try to catch him. The other thing, he runs extremely physical. And to me the thing that I’ve watched on him is he’s one of those guys who looks like he’s stopped and all of the sudden he comes out of the pile which shows he has great balance. He’s just a great running back. You don’t get 2,000 yards rushing in the league that we play in without being an outstanding back.”

But Taylor has also been used in the passing game. He has 16 receptions and four receiving touchdowns so far this season and he ranks No. 3 in the country in all-purpose yards per game (156.4).

The last two games for Taylor have been somewhat different from his other performances. Against Michigan State, Taylor was held to just 80 rushing yards on 26 attempts. That was the first time this season he was held below 100 yards. The next week against Illinois should have been a big game for Taylor considering Illinois’ defense has been allowing an average of 195.3 yards rushing per game, but Taylor was held to 132 yards on 28 attempts, averaging just 4.7 yards per carry in a game that could have been a big confidence-booster.

The Buckeyes have also been able to limit Taylor in the past. In the 2017 Big Ten Championship game, Taylor’s freshman season, Ohio State held him to a career-low 41 yards on 15 carries.

“Obviously we know all of the hype about Jonathan Taylor,” junior linebacker Pete Werner said. “He’s a really good back. He’s strong, fast, patient, so there’s a lot that we take account for, especially in practice. There’s different things we do about that. But we know what we’re doing. We know what we have this week.”

The opportunity to play against a back like Taylor is something the linebackers look forward to. And they know how much is riding on stopping him on Saturday.

“We just know that if we’re going against a premier back, if we stop him, we stop that team,” Werner said. “Their offense is based off of this dude. If we stop him, we’re going to win the game.”

With the significant improvements to Ohio State’s rush defense this season, it is not out of line to think stopping Taylor isn’t too tall of a task. The Buckeyes have been holding opponents to an average of just 2.56 yards per carry this season, after all.

But Mattison warns about the dangers of focusing too much on limiting Taylor in the run game and what that can mean to for the rest of Wisconsin’s offense.

“You gotta be very disciplined,” Mattison said. “When a running back has 2,000 yards, your first thought might be, ‘boy you gotta load up,’ and we really have to do this we have to do that. Anytime you do that and you take away one part you’re going to be open to the next.”

4 Responses

  1. Tuf should have a big game on Saturday. Wisky O plays right into his wheelhouse.

    1. He will not have a big game on Saturday. He will be a weakness. He isnt athletic enough to have a big game.

  2. Maybe I’m wrong, but in 2014, didn’t Wiscy have the No.1 Defense/Running Back in the country? Just sayin’.

  3. Getting Baron Browning back will help. Hes a player.

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