Fresh faces: Wisconsin freshmen star in season opener, primed for big season

Jonathan Taylor has carried UW's rushing offense so far this season.

Image By: Brandon Moe

After true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor exploded for 87 yards and a touchdown Friday night versus Utah State, Wisconsin fans stood up and took notice of who could possibly be the next heir to the Badgers’ long line of running backs.

But Taylor himself wasn’t that impressed with his debut performance.

“I think that I could’ve played better,” Taylor said. “I had a couple of plays where a pass slipped through my hands.”

Taylor’s fellow running back, redshirt sophomore Bradrick Shaw, also spoke of Taylor’s performance in a cautious, played-down manner.

“At first you could tell he was a little nervous, but when he got more comfortable he was able to really turn it on and play good,” Shaw said.

Taylor’s performance Friday night was undoubtedly impressive. But the fact that a 9.7 yard per-carry debut is mostly being viewed as a building block shows how high the Salem, N.J. native’s ceiling could be.

In other words: If that’s what first-game jitters look like, what will Taylor be in a year?

Taylor’s journey to this point is interesting, and maybe a bit surprising, given that he was not even a top-350 recruit nationally, and started Badgers training camp at the bottom of the depth chart for running backs.

But according to redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, Taylor’s early role on the team had more to do with a lack of opportunities than a lack of talent.

“Once he got the ball in his hands, he was surprising everybody,” Hornibrook said. “So he just needed some reps, and we just needed to see him out there. And then he kinda took the rest of it himself.”

Another true freshman making a name for himself thus far is wide receiver Danny Davis III, who has evidently impressed coaches enough to forgo redshirting his first year of eligibility.

While Davis III didn’t register a reception versus Utah State, he still made some big plays, drawing a pass interference penalty and delivering the vital block for redshirt junior Zander Neuville’s third quarter touchdown.

“It would have been nice for him to get one and he'll have opportunities, but I thought that he did some really good things and everyone noticed that block,” head coach Paul Chryst said following the game.

Redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz also played his first snaps for the Badgers Friday night, getting the opportunity to suit up versus an opponent more than 18 months after signing his letter of intent.

But at least according to his teammate, redshirt sophomore left guard Jon Dietzen, Biadasz didn’t play nervously versus Utah State, calling him, “calm and composed.”

Dietzen added: “One of the biggest things is communicating on the sidelines afterwards, and Tyler did a great job of doing that.”

But beyond their solid performances versus Utah State, Taylor, Davis III and Biadasz look poised to contribute to the Badgers during the rest of the season.

Taylor, who led the Badgers in rushing yards on Friday night, was one of three players listed as a co-starter at running back on the team’s initial depth chart. If he keeps up his level of play, there are plenty of snaps to be won in that position battle.

The same goes for Davis III, who is part of a wide receiver corps which could certainly look different by the end of the season. Other than redshirt senior Jazz Peavy, who is locked in at the top of the depth chart, it doesn’t seem like Paul Chryst and his staff are overly committed to any other players as starters.

True sophomores Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor are just a year older than Davis III, and played small roles last season, meaning the first-year Badger is certainly a viable competitor for opportunities.

Finally, Biadasz is pencilled in as the Badgers’ starting center, where he’ll be expected to stay for the remainder of the season barring any injuries or poor play.

Ultimately, the trio are likely just shells of the players they’ll become in a few year’s time, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have a role to play this season.

If you’re good enough, they say, you’re old enough.

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