The Illinois Fighting Illini haven’t beat the Wisconsin Badgers since 2007, the same year the Illini went to the Rose Bowl and well before Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big Ten. Seems like Eons ago, doesn’t it?
Beating Wisconsin in 2018 in Madison on Oct. 20 will be a tall task, especially because the Badgers have Jonathan Taylor in their backfield. Taylor is the best running back in the Big Ten, and he proved that over the course of the entire 2017 season. He led the conference in rushing yards with 1,977 and — even scarier than all of that — the Badgers return four of their five starting offensive linemen from a year ago.
This Wisconsin Badgers team is absolutely good enough to win the Big Ten, and it all starts with their bread-and-butter: running the football. Left guard Michael Deiter, center Tyler Biadasz, right guard Beau Benzschawel and right tackle David Edwards are arguably the best at their positions in the Big Ten. That blocking unit was excellent last season, and with another year of playing and practicing together, the sky’s the limit for what this offense can do.
Taylor is perfectly built for an elusive, stable Big Ten running back. At 5-foot-11 and 216 pounds, he runs with a low enough center of gravity that’s tough to bring down and is fast enough to blow past defenders once he gets outside of the tackles. He has impeccable balance and does a great job of mixing up the length of his strides to fool oncoming linebackers. All of this was on display consistently last season, but especially on the road against Nebraska:
Taylor scored two touchdowns on 249 yards against Nebraska, a game in which the Badgers bludgeoned the Cornhuskers, 38-17. The above touchdown occurred just before halftime, when the game was still close. This marked the turning point in the game, as the Badgers would continue to roll behind Taylor in the second half.
For Taylor to run for just under 2,000 yards and lead the conference in attempts while averaging over 6.0 yards per carry is remarkable, and it is a testament to how hard he is to bring down. In a league with some of the best running backs in the country, including J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State, Karan Higdon of Michigan, Ty Johnson of Maryland and DJ Knox of Purdue — Taylor is the best of the bunch.
Illinois will have an extremely difficult time keeping the Badgers from running riot in 2018 in Madison. Last season, Illinois was the worst defense in the Big Ten at stopping the run, allowing an unacceptable 218.5 yards per game to opposing offenses. That number was also one of the worst in the country — something the Illini need to improve on this offseason.
Illinois fans need be very wary of just how good Wisconsin will be in 2018. Jonathan Taylor is the primary reason why.
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