Jonathan Taylor’s early Heisman Trophy campaign is off to a good start.
The talented tailback showcased his improved versatility and strong running ability on Friday night, leading No. 19 Wisconsin to an impressive 49-0 rout over USF in hot and rainy conditions down in Tampa.
Taylor, looking to put together another season of 2,000+ yards, was fed early and often. He finished with 135 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in just three quarters worth of work and lived up to all the offseason talk of him being more of a threat in the passing game with his first two career touchdown receptions.
The productive start to the season surely boosted his profile as the Badgers look to bounce back into Big Ten West contention. Other developments that could prove just as big for Paul Chryst’s team included a very stout defensive effort (three sacks, three turnovers, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, 157 total yards allowed) and a solid debut to the year for quarterback Jack Coan. The latter spread the ball around to nine different receivers and threw for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Notably, one of those wideouts to catch a pass was Quintez Cephus. Just a week after being cleared to play and reinstated to the team after his acquittal of sexual assault charges, he recorded three catches for 39 yards — marks that were second-most in the game. Nakia Watson and Bradrick Shaw also chipped in with touchdown runs as well as things got out of hand early and often in favor of Wisconsin.
A big factor in that was new Bulls coordinator Kerwin Bell’s offense not looking ready for primetime at the FBS level. Despite the scheme setting a number of records at the Division II level, USF failed to find much consistency at all using it in the opener. QB Blake Barnett was just 13-of-30 for 109 yards and two interceptions plus a fumble that was returned the other way for a score. The team averaged under two yards a carry on the evening and you could count on one hand the number of third down conversions they had in the contest (three).
All of which made for a game that was over well before halftime as the visitors from the Big Ten breezed to an easy victory to open 2019 — even if it was a bit later than expected after waiting out an early weather delay prior to kickoff. Not that such a wait mattered all that much to Taylor and company given the kind of production they put forth against USF.