Jonathan Taylor

Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor fumbles the ball in the second quarter of Wisconsin's 45-14 victory over New Mexico on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. 

So what do you say to your record-setting tailback when he comes to the sideline after fumbling the football? What do you do when the engine that powers your offense has one careless moment that puts a smudge on an otherwise spectacular day and, in all likelihood, costs you the go-ahead touchdown?

Do you rant and rave at him? Do you whack him upside the helmet? Do you bury him on the bench until he sees the error of his ways?

Here's a hint: For University of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, it's none of the above.

"He always talks about how the game won't go your way the entire way, that you're going to face adversity, but the No. 1 thing is how you respond," UW tailback Jonathan Taylor said.

Chryst had to deliver that message to his sophomore tailback again Saturday when Taylor's persistent fumbling problems resurfaced, this time with the Badgers inside New Mexico's 5-yard line while trailing 7-3 midway through the second quarter of their non-conference game.

And Taylor's response?

It was classic Taylor. After sitting out three snaps, all he did was return to the field and dominate the rest of UW's 45-14 victory over New Mexico at Camp Randall Stadium.

"He's a great back," wide receiver A.J. Taylor said. "Yeah, he had a little adversity, but we all do. He overcame it and he played really well."

Actually, Taylor played way better than really well. For the game, he finished with a career-best 253 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Most of his yards came on tough runs between the tackles as UW pounded out 417 rushing yards, the most since it had 581 against Nebraska in Melvin Gordon's 408-yard game back in 2014. Taylor was the driving force as UW wore down the Lobos' overmatched front seven and moved the ball so well on the ground that quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw only 11 passes.

But it was Taylor's splits that best illustrated his response to his second lost fumble in two games this season and his eighth in his first 16 games at UW. The fumble came on his 11th carry of the game and his tally on those first 11 carries was 50 yards, or 4.5 yards per rush. On his next 22 carries, he rushed for 203 yards − 9.3 yards per rush − and three touchdowns, helping UW turn that 7-3 deficit into a 38-14 lead before he went to the bench for good.

Afterward, Taylor's teammates were raving about his response.

"I think he's just a mature kid," guard Michael Deiter said. "He's not going to hang his head. You're not going to see a change in play. If anything, you'll see better play out of him because he knows that's not him, that's not what he wants to do, it's not what he wants people to remember. So he's going to wash away the fumble with 200-plus yards and three touchdowns. You like to see that."

Still, Taylor represents a bit of a dilemma for the coaching staff. On one hand, you have one of the nation's best tailbacks, a Heisman Trophy candidate after setting an FBS rushing record for a freshman last season. On the other hand, turnovers are something coaches simply can't stomach because they often have such a dramatic effect on the game.

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One thing we know for sure is that Taylor works really hard on ball security. All UW backs work on ball security every day, every practice. Running backs coach John Settle's favorite line has always been, "Ball security is job security."

Of course, when you produce like Taylor does, your job is a little more secure. Still, it's a problem he knows he has to conquer so UW doesn't keep leaving points on the field.

"I spend a lot of time on it," Taylor said. "Ball security is always No. 1. You can't do anything without the ball. It's definitely something we're going to work on this week and going forward."

Another thing we know for sure is that Taylor's teammates have his back. They're sure he'll fix the problem eventually and are willing to wait until he does.

"I really don't have any worries about J.T. fixing anything," fullback Alec Ingold said. "He's going to get it done for us. You trust him back there. You don't have any second thoughts when he's back there touching the rock."

Taylor's fumbles have come in a variety of ways − frontal hits, punch-outs from behind, when he's fighting for extra yards, when he's carrying it loosely. He said his fumbling goes back to not maintaining his fundamentals, no matter what the situation is.

But Taylor also must fight the urge to be so protective of the ball that it robs him of his aggressiveness as a runner.

"That can come up from time to time," he said. "But one of the biggest things is to have short-term memory. You've got to flush it, but get back to your fundamentals, things that you learned and worked on during the week."

If Chryst is concerned that Taylor's fumbling problems have spilled over into a second season, you wouldn't know it.

"It's something that we're going to work on," Chryst said. "He'll continue to work on it. He brings a ton to us. And the best part about J.T. is, he'll work at it."

What makes Chryst so sure about that?

"I just like the way he keeps an even keel and he's competitive," Chryst said. "He doesn't want to do it, but he knows, too, that he can pay it back."

Indeed, very few tailbacks in America can pay it back like Taylor. Just ask the Lobos.


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