Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the Michigan vs. Wisconsin and Michigan State vs. Penn State games. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan’s defensive players know plenty about Wisconsin sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor, who finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting last year after being named the Big Ten’s freshman of the year.
Taylor is a 5-foot-11, 211- pound dynamo who leads the country in rushing, averaging 169.8 yards a game. He is coming off his second 200-yard game of the season, rushing for 221 yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska last week. He has eight touchdowns this year.
He attracts plenty of attention, but Michigan’s defense is ranked No. 1 overall nationally and sixth nationally against the run, holding teams to an average 96.5 yards a game. Michigan, ranked No. 12, will face No. 15 Wisconsin Saturday night at Michigan Stadium.
“He’s one of the best backs,” Michigan linebacker Devin Bush said this week, adding what makes Taylor a special back. “His patience. He’s probably the most patient runner we’re going to go against, and I think he’s really good at what they ask him to do.”
Michigan linebacker Devin Gil discusses defending Jonathan Taylor ahead of Saturday's game. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
After his performance last week against Nebraska, his teammates raved about what Taylor has accomplished so far and what’s ahead.
“He’s almost a legend and he’s not even through his second year yet,” Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson told the Wisconsin State Journal. “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.”
Against Michigan last season, Taylor rushed for 132 yards on 19 carries but did not score a rushing touchdown in the Badgers’ victory.
The Wolverines’ defensive players have adopted a new mantra this season, basically a, this-is-our-house-you’ve-got-to-beat-us approach.
“As a defense, we hold ourselves accountable and we know that it’s disrespectful of you coming into our own home and think that you’re going to run the ball on us,” linebacker Devin Gil said this week.
Gil said he assumes Taylor must feel “a lot of expectations” knowing he has to run against the nation’s top-rated defense.
“We’re just going to come out and handle our business and make sure that everything that does happen for him, doesn’t,” Gil said. “He does well inside the box, pound for pound, but the type of defense that we bring and the type of mentality we bring, I don’t see nothing fazing us.”
Mike Zordich, who coaches the cornerbacks for Michigan, said Wisconsin’s run game opens up the pass for quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He described the Badgers’ running backs as more north and south runners versus Maryland’s running backs last week who tried to hit perimeter runs.
It will be strength on strength when Taylor runs against Michigan’s defense.
“It’s two teams, one defense that likes to pound with the offense,” Zordich said. “It’s a great matchup. It’s going to be a fun night.”
Safety Josh Metellus talked about defending Wisconsin ahead of Saturday's game. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Bush said defending Maryland’s rushing attack was good preparation for Taylor and the Badgers. He is a patient runner, and they have to be disciplined.
“Play your keys, do your job and plays will come to you and make the plays that come to you,” Bush said.
While it’s absolutely key for Michigan to slow Taylor and the rushing attack, Hornibrook will be an issue, as well. In his last 10 road games, all wins for the Badgers, he has completed 68 percent of his throws for 18 touchdowns against three interceptions.
But Michigan’s defense prides itself on stopping the run and this will go a long way toward proving that.
“First of all, it’s our house,” safety Josh Metellus said. “We’ve got to make sure we beat Wisconsin. We focus on Michigan first, what we have to do and everybody does their job. Now they’ve got to beat (us). They’ve got to beat us one on one, they’ve got to beat us man on man, they’ve got to beat us. It’s not we have to go out there and beat them. We do what we do, and they’ve got to beat that.”
First, they have to “beat” Taylor. He’s on an incredible pace this year, as Zoridch said, it will be a pound-it-out offense against a pound-it-out defense. If Taylor has another big game, it will be another step for him in the Heisman conversation.
That’s not his concern, though.
“The Heisman stuff, that’s all at the end of the year,” Taylor told the Wisconsin State Journal. “What matters right now is Michigan.”
Wisconsin at Michigan
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Wisconsin 4-1, 2-0 Big Ten; Michigan 5-1, 3-0
Line: Michigan by 8