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Taylor has Hawkeyes' full attention

Taylor has Hawkeyes' full attention

IOWA CITY — Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor has accumulated myriad accolades during his first three seasons in the Badgers' backfield.

Already second on the school’s career rushing list, Taylor has rushed for 5,180 yards in his first 35 games at the college level.

With a blend of power and speed, the 5-foot-11, 219-pound New Jersey native joins Georgia’s Herschel Walker, Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne and Oregon’s LaMichael James as the only players in the major-college football history to run for more than 5,000 yards before the end of their junior season.

Taylor has topped 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first three seasons at Wisconsin, including running for 157 and 113 yards in two games against Iowa, but there is one thing he hasn’t done.

He has never scored a touchdown against the Hawkeyes, a streak the Iowa defense will work to extend in Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Camp Randall Stadium.

"The focus is putting more guys on him, so we’ve really been hemming it up during practice just to contain him, not giving him any gaps to seep through," Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia said.

That will likely require defensive backs to assist in run support from the edge as the Hawkeyes cope with a Wisconsin offense that has been centered on a Taylor-made rushing attack.

The Badgers are second in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 216.4 yards per game, and Taylor is responsible for 126.1 of those yards.

"You’re on edge the entire game as long as he is out there," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You have to respect his ability to finish plays, and it’s really a significant factor."

Taylor has averaged 5 yards per carry in his two games against the Hawkeyes, but Iowa has generally been able to limit his difference-making ability.

He has topped 10 yards on just seven of his 54 carries against Iowa and so far hasn’t busted a long run against the Hawkeyes. But he’s capable, running for 20 or more yards on six carries this season including touchdown runs of 37, 38, 48 and 72 yards during the 16th-ranked Badgers’ 6-2 start to the season.

"Those plays break your back," Ferentz said. "They’re tough to come back from."

Illinois and Ohio State have provided Iowa with a blueprint of sorts for dealing with Wisconsin’s rushing attack, slowing it to beat the Badgers and put them in a position where they share a 3-2 record in the Big Ten with 18th-ranked Iowa.

Both the Fighting Illini and Buckeyes loaded up to slow the Wisconsin ground game and found success.

Illinois limited Wisconsin to 3.6 yards per carry and Ohio State, holding Taylor to a season-low 52 yards, limited the Badgers to 2.4 yards per carry.

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said his staff spent last week’s bye week working on ways to answer opponents who load up the box to deny the run.

"There are some things you can do schematically to help that, and there are some things you can do technically," Chryst said during his Monday news conference.

"What’s kind of fun about it is we all got to own it. Coaches got to own it. Players got to own it. There are some areas where we can take some steps forward."

For Iowa, making things a challenge for Taylor starts with complicating things for Wisconsin starting quarterback Jack Coan.

The first-year starter has completed 75.4 percent of his 184 passes.

Receivers Quintez Cephus, Danny Davis and A.J. Taylor join tight end Jake Ferguson as his primary targets. The quartet has combined for 87 receptions.

"We’re going to try to heat it up this week and make it blurry for him," Ojemudia said. "We think he’s a good quarterback, but we don’t think he’s exceptional. So, if we force him to pass and heat it up for him, I think he’s prone to make mistakes."

To get to those passing situations, Iowa is working to prepare to deal with the Badgers’ ground game.

Safety Jack Koerner said Iowa has experimented with putting additional defensive linemen on the field this week, a move that would counter heavy looks that saw Wisconsin use as many as seven offensive linemen in its 28-17 win at Iowa a year ago.

"When they come in and get in those tight-bunched formations, we want to be able to get down and stop the run and force them into longer down and distances," Koerner said.

It’s a challenge the Hawkeyes embrace.

"This is everything that we’ve been working for," linebacker Djimon Colbert said. "We’ve got to come out and use all the weeks of tackle drills we do, all the weeks of pursuit drills. This is the game you want to come out and showcase that."

The late-season test with a marquee running back on the other side of the field and the stakes as high as they’ve been all season provides that backdrop.

Koerner expects solo tackles to be a rarity against Taylor, but believes a collective approach can work for Iowa.

"He makes good first contact, and you’ve got to be able to take him down," Koerner said. "We’ve got to make sure we’re running to the ball. If he’s going to be able to have one-on-one situations all day, that’s not exactly what we want."

Refreshed and ready coming off of a bye week, Colbert said the Hawkeyes are ready.

"These are the types of games you want to be involved in if you are part of a Big Ten program," Colbert said.


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