Hey, college football world: Give Jonathan Taylor an actual chance to win the Heisman Trophy
“He’s probably going to be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. At least he should be.”
That was what ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said about Jonathan Taylor following his second touchdown of the night in Wisconsin’s blowout win against USF on Friday. It was a little screen pass that Taylor turned upfield and perfectly set up his block to roll in for a 36-yard touchdown. It was the first time that Taylor recorded a receiving touchdown. Somehow.
Later that quarter with the clock winding down in the first half, Jack Coan made a mistake. He threw a crossing route to Taylor. The problem was that Taylor was well short of the end zone and he had two defenders in front of him. If Taylor came up short of the end zone, Wisconsin would head to the locker room having wasted prime field position deep in USF territory.
Yeah, about that.
Taylor had both USF defenders stop him a couple yards short of the goal line, but in typical Taylor fashion, he torpedoed his body to cross the goal line to make sure Wisconsin didn’t leave any points on the field. Coan’s mistake wasn’t a mistake at all.
The only mistake involving Taylor on Friday night would’ve been dismissing his chances of actually making a push for the Heisman Trophy.
On a night in which he did everything and more — including holding onto the ball — Taylor had Patrick Mahomes calling for his Heisman campaign:
Jonathan Taylor for Heisman!
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) August 31, 2019
Reggie Bush also was impressed with Taylor. Bush, of course, is one of just 3 running backs to win the Heisman in the 21st century. Once upon a time, a back like Ron Dayne could win the Heisman. It didn’t matter that he was in his fourth season or that he only caught 1 pass for 9 yards all season. It didn’t matter that he actually had fewer rushing yards in his Heisman season than he did as a true freshman. And it didn’t matter that Wisconsin didn’t play for a national championship that year.
The 3 backs who won the award in the 21st century all played in a national championship. They all had huge bumps in production in their Heisman seasons, too.
I say that because I worry many have already written off Taylor because he won’t follow the Heisman narrative. The dude already had a 2,000 yard-season. His team probably won’t play for a national championship, either (but I’m not sure many could’ve beat Wisconsin on Saturday night). And because he’s a Wisconsin back, many will just say his ridiculous production is all because of the offensive line.
I hate that. Give this guy a chance.
Why? Well, besides the fact that he can set like a billion records this year, he’s sooooooo not a system back. Who could say that after watching that jump cut he made for his first score? Or who could say that after watching the way he stopped on a dime like Le’Veon Bell to set up his block and scored his fourth touchdown of the night?
I mean, goodness.
Jonathan Taylor with as pretty an inside run as you’ll see. pic.twitter.com/qKk9ByjcLN
— Dylan DeSimone (@DylanADeSimone) August 31, 2019
The guy is a machine. And if you don’t believe that, perhaps you missed when he had that 2,000-yard season last year — it was 1,000 yards more than the second-leading rusher in the B1G — when Wisconsin’s offensive line struggled with injuries all season long.
You don’t set the FBS record for rushing yards through 2 seasons because you’re “a system back.” You just don’t.
Still, despite those things, 9 quarterbacks had better preseason Heisman Trophy odds than Taylor. That included a quarterback who had yet to start a college game. Why? Because oddsmakers understand that this is a narrative-driven award. We like our Heisman winners to be the “next big thing.”
Taylor hasn’t been the big thing, but he’s been a big thing in college football each of the last 2 years. And yet, even with that 2,000-yard season, Taylor finished ninth (!) in the Heisman voting.
If we’re already bored of Taylor, that’s on us. There’s no way what he does should put us to sleep. Don’t let Wisconsin’s dominance of the tailback position for the last 20 years trick you into thinking that Taylor isn’t special. He is.
Here’s what I hope. Maybe Taylor’s “on the rise” thing is adding the passing game work to his résumé. Paul Chryst said that would be the plan this year, and we saw plenty of that on Friday night. Maybe if Taylor can catch 30 balls, score 5 touchdowns as a pass-catcher and flirt with 2,500 scrimmage yards, the college football world will go “you know what? This dude needs to be seriously considered for the Heisman.”
Then again, we’re talking about the same award that didn’t even invite Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott to New York.
In this era of passing, maybe the only way to get to win the award as a running back is to get 395 carries and play for a Playoff team. I really don’t know what a Heisman winner at running back looks like in 2019.
What I do know is that watching Taylor’s brilliance on Friday night served as an important reminder that he’s one of the great players in B1G history. If he puts together yet another 2,000-yard season, he’ll deserve to be in the conversation as one of the best college running backs of all-time. It’s silly to think he doesn’t deserve a fair shot at college football’s top individual honor.
If Taylor repeats or somehow improves on his 2018 performance — cutting down the fumbles and the aforementioned passing game involvement would be the ways he could do that — then ignore modern Heisman thinking and support what Riddick suggested.
Get Taylor to New York.