Through seven games in 2009, linebacker Mike Taylor was the Badger’s leading tackler. The redshirt freshman was flying all over the field, making plays in the backfield and filling up the stat sheet.
But an ACL tear suffered against Iowa forced the rising star to miss the remainder of the season.
After a long recovery period and a few games to knock off the rust, the playmaking Taylor UW saw in 2009 appears to be back.
Last Saturday against Austin Peay, Taylor dominated. The sophomore played just one half but led the team in tackles with seven. He was in on two plays that resulted in a tackle for loss and showed the burst and aggressiveness that made him so successful a year ago.
“Mike is back man. Mike is back,” senior captain Culmer St. Jean said after the game. “Borland left and now Mike is back. He’s playing awesome. He had two games under his belt and this week he just took it over the top and played really well.”
For defensive end J.J. Watt, it was a welcome sight to see Taylor making plays from sideline to sideline.
“Its great to have Mike back,” Watt said. “He’s back flying around again and he’s a big playmaker for us.”
Taylor returned to action in week two against San Jose State but appeared tentative in his first game back. The following week against Arizona State, Taylor looked better but he was held to a snap count.
Against the Governors, Taylor played a full half and agreed it was the best he had played thus far.
“Definitely felt the best so far this season,” Taylor said. “I used the two previous games to kind of build confidence, see where the knee was at and kind of test it out. This week I planned on just playing fast and playing hard.
“I’m on my way back to where I was last year.”
St. Jean and the rest of the linebackers could tell Taylor was progressing each day in practice, and when gameday rolled around the captain expected a breakthrough performance from No. 53.
“We noticed it in practice. He had been cutting better, getting his weight up,” St. Jean said. “I’m so excited to have that component added to our defense.”
Like many of the starters, Taylor sat out the second half against Austin Peay, so the question remains: Is Taylor ready and able to go for a full 60 minutes at Michigan State?
“Very ready,” defensive coordinator Dave Doeren said. “Mike had to get back into football shape and then he had to get the confidence back. The knee was always stable it was just a matter of him believing in it.”
Taylor and the rest of the Badger defense better be ready, because a physical football game awaits in East Lansing.
Much like UW, MSU employs a potent rushing attack that sets up their offense. Sophomore Edwin Baker, a speed back, has rushed for 449 yards and is running at a clip of 7.9 yards per carry. The Spartans also utilize true freshman Le’Veon Bell, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound power back who’s averaging over eight yards a carry and has already reached the endzone seven times.
When the Badgers take the field in East Lansing, they’ll be going head-to-head with an offense that wants to play the same physical brand of football UW prides itself on.
“It’s like practicing against us. They are both tough kids they run hard and they run a lot of the same plays our guys do,” Doeren said. “They are averaging 8 yards a carry. I don’t think they have played a team that’s really challenged them a whole lot yet but their very good players.”
UW plans on giving the Spartans that challenge this Saturday, and a test of wills at the line of scrimmage is one the Badgers are more than willing to take.
“Michigan State runs an offense similar to our offense. This is the offense that we were really bred to play against,” Watt said. “We want guys that are going to line up and try to run on us. That’s what we’re built to do and we’re excited for that.”