FORT LAUDERDALE — The puns and metaphors don’t require much thought. They virtually write themselves when it comes to Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.
Here’s a guy who almost didn’t wind up in Madison. Because he seriously considered going to Harvard. He’s a big admirer of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He sheepishly admits he just received a telescope, the ideal Christmas gift for a guy who wants to go into astronomy and physics.
Now add that to the fact that Taylor finished fourth in the nation — as a freshman — with 1,847 rushing yards.
So if you want to talk about a guy on a meteoric rise, a shooting star, a guy who constantly in need of space or whatever other parallels there are, have at it.
All the University of Miami Hurricanes care about is whether they can bring him back down to earth in Saturday’s Orange Bowl, when all eyes will be on No. 23.
“He’s hard to bring down,” Hurricanes defensive lineman Joe Jackson said. “So if you don’t wrap up, we’re going to look like idiots.”
Taylor is a 5-foot-11, 214-pounder from Salem High in New Jersey who has made plenty of opponents look something other than smart for years. In high school, he had 4,642 career rushing yards and 51 touchdowns. He was the state 100-meter champion. Plenty of recruits have those kind of credentials, and even Wisconsin wasn’t sure what it was getting until his senior season of high school football rolled around and the “stuff” he was putting on film, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said, “was ridiculous.
“So coming in, you felt good.”
After a few plays in the team scrimmage, Rudolph felt more than good.
“He made a play on a screen pass, he made a play on an outside zone,” Rudolph said. Right then, the coaches knew Taylor was not redshirt material.
“You’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got to get this guy ready to go,’ ” Rudolph said.
You’ll never get Taylor to admit he too had visions of an extraordinary year.
“My expectations were just to be ready if or when my number was called,” Taylor said.
Ask about his staggering rushing total or his 6.8 average or 13 touchdowns and he’ll go on and on about his linemen, the defense, his coaches — everything but himself.
“I know what got me here,” he said.
Said Michael Deiter, one of his blockers: “It’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here, if this is where he starts.”
Whether Taylor’s eventual future is in pro football is a long way off. He said he chose Wisconsin over Harvard because of the balance between athletics and academics. He’s an honor roll student hungry to learn more about the unknown.
“It’s definitely going to be tough, dealing with the academics, but that’s one thing that I wanted,” Taylor said.
He’s intrigued by deGrasse Tyson, saying, “I just respect the way that he talks about space and his studies. He talks about it not as ‘I know this’ or ‘I know that,’ but, ‘This is exciting’ and ‘This is what I love to do.’ So I really love his passion about it.”
The Hurricanes have had plenty of studying to do, too, and have been impressed with Taylor’s speed and ability to run through tackles.
“Speed vs. power,” UM linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “I think we’ve got the upper hand. I mean, speed — I think speed has been known to always win. But even with the way we play against the run, and the way that they run the ball, it’s going to be a battle.”
Whether UM can keep Taylor grounded will go a long way toward determining the Orange Bowl champion.
“I don’t think it’s a secret: They’re going to run it,” UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Everyone knows it. You’ve got to stop the run, but it’s easier said than done. But you’ve got to love doing it because it’s going to happen over and over again.”
Taylor takes a philosophical look at the matchup, recognizing that both teams are coming off disappointing results in their conference championship games.
“We know that this is going to be a home game for them, so they’re going to be fired up,” Taylor said. “They’re coming off a big loss; we’re coming off a big loss. So they’re definitely going to come out swinging, just like us, to prove themselves and end up right.”