So far this season, University of Wisconsin receiver AJ Taylor has accumulated 406 yards and three touchdowns on 24 receptions in the team’s nine games — just 69 yards, two touchdowns and seven receptions short of Taylor’s total from last year’s 14 game season, which included the Big Ten Championship and Orange Bowl.
After last year, most saw AJ Taylor as the third best option on the Badger depth chart in 2018. But these expectations quickly changed over the summer with the sexual assault allegations and subsequent dismissal of former teammate Quintez Cephus, as well as the two-game suspension of Danny Davis for his involvement in the incident.
Now, AJ Taylor was the No. 1 receiver for Wisconsin going into week one. A challenge Taylor accepted eagerly with a combined 219 yards, ten receptions and a touchdown in his first two contests.
With this increased role comes greater pressure on Taylor than in past seasons. Teams are planning for him more, making his current success on the field that much more difficult.
“[Being the primary receiver] is a role where you have to always be ready,” Taylor said. “And as a receiver, yeah you always have to be ready. But it’s a little bit more noticeable. You have to be on your Ps and Qs really. It’s a lot more detailed and a lot more focused.”
That being said, in recent weeks Taylor has been phased out of the offense somewhat. In his past four games, the receiver totaled just 52 yards and one score.
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This decrease in volume is in part a result of new players stepping up in the Badger receiving game. Freshman tight end Jake Ferguson has continued his surprising season, leading the team in receptions with 25 for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
Returning from his suspension, Danny Davis has also produced recently, gaining season highs in receptions and yards this week against Rutgers with six and 60 respectively, including an 11-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Jack Coan.
But there have been opportunities for the breakout player, as Taylor has admittedly struggled to catch contested passes in recent weeks. After the game against Rutgers, Taylor lamented missed opportunities on some contested plays.
“I’d really say that’s one of my specialties, contested balls — I missed three of them,” Taylor said, “That’s just one of those things I’ve just got to focus up a little bit more and make the plays.”
Over the past two contests, the Badger quarterback situation has been in flux, potentially impacting Taylor’s involvement. Coan replaced Alex Hornibrook against Northwestern two weeks ago while the junior was sidelined with a concussion. Though Hornibrook returned this week versus Rutgers, another head injury forced him to the sideline at halftime and will likely mean another week of concussion protocol for the ailing quarterback.
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At first, Wisconsin kept the ball in the air with Coan attempting 31 passes on the day of the loss versus Northwestern but only two of these were caught by Taylor. Last week though the Badgers opted to run the ball with star back Jonathan Taylor against Rutgers, resulting in zero touches for AJ Taylor with Coan in.
But if Coan needs to play more games with Hornibrook sidelined, AJ Taylor is confident the production will work itself out.
“It’s just one of those things where we need to just keep practicing and keep building chemistry,” AJ Taylor said.
In the Badgers final three regular season games and bowl game, maintaining focus on AJ Taylor’s part as well as quarterback stability will determine if the wideout can finish off his career year as hot as it started.