Coming off of a big first home win against UNLV, Northwestern fell flat against Michigan State. With a top ten team hosting the ‘Cats next week in Wisconsin, we look back at how the Wildcats limited Jonathan Taylor last year and what they have to do to succeed this year.
Last year, Northwestern’s win over Wisconsin marked the first time that a Big Ten West title was realistically within reach. It was the start of an amazing campaign that brought Northwestern to Indianapolis.
This year, the situation is a bit different: Northwestern looks extremely vulnerable while Wisconsin looks, well, the complete opposite of vulnerable. Northwestern is catching a team in stride as the Badgers are riding high after a blowout victory over Michigan. Additionally, they will have to go up against one of the best running backs in the country.
Limiting Taylor in 2018
In the 2018 clash between these two teams, Jonathan Taylor was held to 46 yards on 11 touches with a long of 10. This stat line was his worst of the season:
An early fumble in the game contributed to an overall lack of production for Taylor in Evanston. From this play, you can see Northwestern setting the edge, thus forcing him to try making a play up the middle. As seen from the Michigan game as a whole, the back is at his best when he is able to bust it outside and has space to run. He was also credited with another fumble forced by Paddy Fisher during the middle of the third quarter.
Taylor had two carries go for over five yards through the entirety of the 2018 Northwestern game, and one of them was a garbage time 8 yard scurry. Northwestern’s gameplan of limiting his ability to use the outside of the field coupled with punching at the ball every time Taylor carried it proved to be Northwestern’s recipe to success.
Jonathan Taylor vs Michigan
No player in Wisconsin’s football history every tallied over 200 yards against the Michigan Wolverines. Taylor finished last week’s game with 203 yards on 23 touches and two scores against a Michigan defense that was only allowing 3 yards per rush prior to the game. By the first quarter, he had already gone for over 100 yards.
The way that Taylor is able to jump cut and reach his full speed in what feels like less than a second is something truly remarkable. Very few running backs in college, let alone the pros, make a play like this. As you can see, he’s at his best when he gets outside the tackles. If Northwestern can’t contain the edge, it’s going to be a long afternoon in Madison.
How Northwestern has defended the run this year
Jonathan Taylor is without a doubt the most skilled player that Northwestern will have seen so far. As an early Heisman favorite, he is far and away a more talented player than what the ‘Cats saw in Elijah Collins last week.
This is very concerning considering that the NU defense made Collins looked like Marshawn Lynch on this touchdown from last weekend. Taylor has 25 pounds on the Michigan State running back.
In this play, Northwestern made the UNLV running back look like Jonathan Taylor.
Letting any running back, let alone Wisconsin’s Heisman contender, see the open field with such ease will only result in bad things. The NU defense will have to sell out to stop the run and contact Taylor at the line of scrimmage in order to have any chance of winning this game. The future NFL running back is way too talented and elusive to meet in open grass.
In order for the ‘Cats to stand any chance at all, the game plan has to be to force him to run up the middle and hope the team’s talented linebacking unit can plug the gaps and make plays when called upon.
At the end of the day, as the overplayed aphorism goes, “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.”