After Jonathan Taylor recorded 221 yards and three touchdowns in the University of Wisconsin’s 41-24 win over Nebraska on Saturday, a reporter jokingly asked him about his failure to live up to the performance of former Badgers running back Melvin Gordon.
Gordon wowed the nation with a then-FBS record 408 yards when the Cornhuskers traveled to Camp Randall Stadium four years ago, a memorable day that propelled Gordon to a second-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting.
“You don’t get guys like Melvin Gordon every year,” Taylor said. “That’s a 20-year span type of year with Melvin Gordon. Not even that. He was a special guy. You watch his tape, you watch how he plays, and you try to play with that same passion that he played with, and you just try to use it to the fullest the way that you can.”
Taylor hasn’t reached that level just yet, but the sophomore’s putting together quite an impressive imitation of the all-time Badgers great.
Saturday marked his second 200-yard outing this season and his fifth in just 19 career games.
After placing sixth in Heisman Trophy voting a year ago, he leads the nation with 169.8 rushing yards per game this season. If the Badgers play 14 games this year, Taylor’s on pace for 2,377 yards and 22 touchdowns, just 210 yards and seven scores off Gordon’s historic 2014 season.
“He’s almost a legend and he’s not even through his second year yet,” UW tight end Jake Ferguson said. “He’s got guys hanging on him and he’s still running faster than most of us.
“Watching him run is incredible. You can’t arm tackle the guy. You can barely tackle the guy anyway. He’s a great player, and I’m excited to see what he can do the rest of the season.”
While UW’s offensive line helped pave the way for 370 rushing yards against the Huskers, Taylor also created much on his own Saturday.
That included his 88-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach. He ran through a tackle seven yards downfield before a strong stiff arm to Nebraska defensive back Dicaprio Bootle set him loose for the career-long run.
“When he broke the 88-yard one, that just fired me up because I love seeing him just roll,” UW running back Taiwan Deal said. “He’s running 22, 23 miles an hour. It’s just insane.”
Taylor isn’t considered the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, and it’ll prove difficult to beat out some of the top quarterbacks in the country for the award.
If he continues playing as he did over the season’s first five games, however, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s invited to New York as a finalist with a chance to take home the award that Gordon didn’t.
The competition may also get tougher in future weeks, beginning Saturday at No. 12 Michigan, but Taylor isn’t too worried about his statistics leveling out. He just wants his play to translate into wins.
“The Heisman stuff, that’s all at the end of the year,” Taylor said. “What matters right now is Michigan.”