Jukin' J.J. Taylor ignites Arizona football in win over Hawaii
Arizona freshman running back J.J. Taylor (23) runs the ball downfield in Saturday's game against Hawaii at Arizona Stadium. Taylor had a career-high 168 rushing yards against the Rainbow Warriors.
In the aftermath of the Orlando Bradford domestic violence arrest, the biggest concern for the Arizona Wildcats was who was going to provide insurance for Nick Wilson.
After the Wildcats handedly beat the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 47-28 Saturday behind running back J.J. Taylor’s 168-yard rushing performance on 18 carries, the freshman may have solidified his role as a key component to the offense. Taylor allowed the game to come to him and shined in the second half.
“It was fun. It was a lot of fun actually,” Taylor said.
Playing a team like Hawaii isn’t the most effective way of evaluating Taylor’s performance, considering the Warriors are ranked No. 126 in the country in total defense. For an even more eye-opening statistic, Hawaii is the worst school defensively in giving up total points over the course of four games, with 150 points allowed.
Hawaii’s defense was suspect again, but Saturday’s game was about Taylor receiving more exposure than just a third-down back. An extra body in the running rotation turned into the tailback that head coach Rich Rodriguez leaned on for most of the game after Wilson left with a left leg injury in the first quarter. Rodriguez wasn’t stunned with Taylor’s efforts because the game plan never altered.
“[I’m] not surprised at all and we were going to run it a lot anyway,” Rodriguez said. “When Nick was hurt, obviously [Taylor] was the guy and he’s a tough, competitive player.”
Taylor has a high ceiling compared to some of the other notable backs Rodriguez has coached. In their debut games with double-digit rushing attempts, Ka’Deem Carey had four touches for 48 yards against Oregon in 2011 while Wilson had 30 attempts for 174 yards against UTSA.
Taylor may possess similar traits to Wilson and Carey, such as earning yards after contact, but he showcased more than a few stiff arms. Taylor made cuts and spin moves that most freshmen wouldn’t make. His breakaway speed shown in a 61-yard touchdown dash in the second half added another dimension to the offense.
“He’s got a lot of shiftiness to him obviously and he really is mature beyond his years as far as this level of football,” Rodriguez said. “J.J. is going to get a great opportunity to play a lot.”
An opportunity that most running backs wouldn’t get so early in the season, but the depth chart has played into Taylor’s favor and could prove to be a tremendous blessing for the Wildcats.
Taylor was a firework waiting to go off and with the backfield starting to deplete, it didn’t derail his preparation at all. “It didn’t affect me at all because as a football player, you have to be prepared for anything and that’s my job; so that’s what I did,” Taylor said.
Even though Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins was still gelling into the offense in his second start behind center, Taylor made his evening easier and Dawkins showed his appreciation after the game.
“Getting more yards, making the drives a lot easier, taking less pressure off of me and getting our run game—so thanks, J.J.,” Dawkins said.
Taylor doesn’t resemble the ideal Division-I running back when you compare him to the players of the same position around the country, but Rodriguez said that his 5-foot-6 frame has more to it than what meets the eye.
“He’s short, but not small,” Rodriguez said. “You look at him—he’s put together, strong and was a tremendous high school player. Sometimes we get caught up in the measurables. … If you want to find a guy that’ll be a really good player in college, find a guy that was a really good player in high school. That’s what he was.”
Wilson’s status is still unknown for Arizona’s Pac-12 Conference opener at home against No. 9 Washington, but Rodriguez has to feel confident in his young, rising star.
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