LOS ANGELES — For most defensive coaches, watching the historically productive Jonathan Taylor run with grace, power and speed in a dark film is like watching a horror movie.
Andy Avalos is trying to make sure the Ducks don’t flinch.
Oregon’s first-year defensive coordinator enjoys the process of dissecting the opposition and will have a plan for the two-time Doak Walker winner when No. 7 Oregon takes the field against No. 11 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“We've seen some pretty good backs this year,” Avalos said Friday during a media session at a downtown Los Angeles hotel. “But no question, this is the best back we've seen this year.”
Taylor is one of the greatest backs college football fans have ever witnessed.
The 5-foot-11, 219-pound junior’s 6,080 career rushing yards rank sixth in FBS history.
Taylor has easily the amassed the most rushing yards over a three-season span, passing San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey (6,653, 2014-16), Georgia’s Herschel Walker (5,596, 1980-82), Texas’ Ricky Williams (5,540, 1996-98) and USC’s Charles White (5,387, 1977-79) this season.
“I wouldn’t say we focus the whole game (on Taylor),” said defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year. “But we’ll say that he has been important in our game plan.”
Taylor is the only FBS player to rush for 1,900 or more yards in three consecutive seasons. He needs 91 yards against the Ducks to join Ron Dayne (1996, 1999) — Wisconsin’s 1999 Heisman Trophy winner and the all-time leading rusher in FBS — and Iowa State’s Troy Davis (1995, 1996) as the only players with multiple 2,000-yard seasons.
So, beyond the numbers, what makes Taylor so special?
“Number one, he's been blessed with a size-speed combination you don't always see,” Avalos said. “His change of direction. To go along with that, his vision really good.”
Taylor also runs behind a formidable offensive line, which includes fellow consensus all-American Tyler Biadasz, the 2019 Rimington Trophy recipient as the nation’s top center.
The Badgers (10-3) run a variety of different blocking schemes to create space for Taylor, who is second nationally in rushing yards (1,909) and third in rushing yards per game (146.9).
“Honestly, it’s probably the consistency of just being a great player and doing things consistently that are like, ‘Wow!’” Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said when asked if there is an underrated aspect of Taylor’s game. “And when you’re so consistent with it, where it doesn’t just happen once or here or there, I think it can almost seem like that’s just the way it’s supposed to happen.
“When you look take a look at some of the stuff you’re like, ‘Damn, that’s different.’ I just think it’s his approach to it.”
Linebacker Troy Dye has played against some decorated running backs during his four years at Oregon.
“Christian McCaffrey, Royce Freeman in practice,” Dye began rattling off the list when asked about Taylor recently. “He is definitely a special guy in his own way, and we look forward to the challenge he brings.”
Taylor said he never considered skipping the “Granddaddy of Them All” to avoid the risk of injury before the 2020 NFL draft.
“I grew up watching Reggie Bush play and of course recently Christian McCaffrey play in this game,” Taylor said. “It’s always electric when you can make a big play in the Rose Bowl.”
The Ducks are ninth in points allowed (15.7 per game) and 10th in rushing yards allowed (106.9 per game) under Avalos.
Taylor said Oregon’s linebackers remind him of Purdue’s unit but the overall team speed is closer to Ohio State’s level.
“When you see a hole, you’ve got to make sure you hit it 100 miles per hour because they’ve got a lot of speed on defense,” Taylor said. “They’re able to run sideline to sideline, so you’ve got to make sure you’re very decisive.”
Oregon was able to beat the Russell Wilson-led Badgers in the 2012 Rose Bowl.
Now the Ducks (11-2) will try to send Taylor — who was fifth in this year’s Heisman voting and in the top 10 each of the past three seasons — off with a loss in what is presumed to be his final collegiate game.
“He’s a running back that is special in so many ways,” cornerback Thomas Graham said. “He’s like top five in the nation in broken tackles, his offensive line blocks very good for him, so you’ve got to make sure you get off blocks.
“We’ve got to make sure to gang tackle and not let go at any moment and hold on for dear life.
“If you don’t, it’s bad because he’s fast, too.”
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