Taylor, No. 6 Wisconsin aim at Illinois’ porous run D

Field Level Media

October 15, 2019 at 8:01 pm.

Wisconsin junior Jonathan Taylor is set to join a trio of elite running backs when the dominant No. 6 Badgers play their first Big Ten road game at Illinois on Saturday.

Taylor, who has rushed for 4,996 yards, is just shy of joining Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker and Ron Dayne (another Badger), plus LaMichael James, as the only FBS players to reach 5,000 rushing yards before their senior year.

Taylor is averaging 137.5 rushing yards a game and also leads the FBS with 18 touchdowns — 14 rushing and four receiving — as the Badgers (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) won their first six games for the second time in three years.

All that despite being the focus of every opponent’s game plan and every defensive coordinator’s biggest nightmare.

“It’s no secret that everyone … the plan is going to be how do you stop ‘JT,’ or minimize him, right?” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said after Taylor had a season-low 80 rushing yards but still scored twice in the Badgers’ 38-0 victory over Michigan State last week.

“You know that going in. For us to be the best offense we can be, we’ve got to be able to move the ball a number of different ways.”

Can do.

The Badgers are averaging 42.5 points a game, eighth in the FBS, and quarterback Jack Coan has complemented Taylor by completing 103 of 135 passes with eight touchdowns and one interception, ranking second in the FBS with a 76.3 completion percentage. Five players have caught at least 15 passes, including Taylor.

Then there is Wisconsin’s stifling defense. The Badgers have four shutouts and have given up only 29 points and four touchdowns.

The Badgers rank first in the FBS in total defense, scoring defense, third-down conversion defense, passing yards allowed and passing efficiency defense. They are tied for seventh with 3.83 sacks per game.

“Any time in this game you can make someone uncomfortable, that’s another stress,” Chryst said. “Every defense in America, that’s what they are going to want to do, right? How do you disrupt the quarterback?”

Illinois (2-4, 0-3) has lost four in a row, including three at home in Champaign, and has been susceptible to the running game in consecutive Big Ten losses to Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan.

Nebraska had 346 yards rushing and one 100-yard rusher in a 42-38 victory; Minnesota had 332 yards, one 200-yard rusher and one 100-yarder in a 40-17 win; and Michigan had 295 yards and two 100-yard rushers in last week’s 42-25 victory.

The Illini are 107th nationally in run defense, giving up 201.8 yards per game.

Illinois starting quarterback Brandon Peters missed the Michigan game after suffering a concussion against Minnesota and was replaced by Matt Robinson, but Peters will start if he passes the concussion protocol this week, coach Lovie Smith said. Halfback Reggie Corbin leads the Illini with 396 yards rushing and a 5.9 per carry average.

“You start with Taylor, arguably the best player in college football,” Smith said of the issues Wisconsin presents. “He has size (5-11, 219). He can hit you with power. Good scheme. It’s a good challenge, and you have to be sound.

“First, you need to like contact. We know what we’re going to see. It’s not going to be a finesse game this week. We need to put our big-boy pads on.”