College Sports

He’s hell on wheels. Canes’ defense will face nation’s No. 1 tailback in Pinstripe Bowl

University of Miami coach Mark Richt on tonight’s win

University of Miami coach Mark Richt speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.
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University of Miami coach Mark Richt speaks to the media after the Hurricanes defeat Pittsburgh Panthers 24-3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, November 24, 2018.

While University of Miami fans are not exactly thrilled about their Hurricanes going against the Wisconsin team (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten) that thumped the Canes (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) in last year’s Capital One Orange Bowl, you can bet that UM’s vaunted defense is pumped about facing the No. 1 running back in America.

On Thursday night in Atlanta, Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin was named the 2018 winner of the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the top running back in the country.

The 5-11, 221-pound Taylor, whose 3,966 career rushing yards through this, his sophomore season, are the most in history by an FBS running back, led both teams with 130 yards on 26 carries in last year’s Orange Bowl game.

This season, Taylor has 1,989 yards and 15 touchdowns on 280 carries for a 7.1-yard-per-carry average.

Taylor’s right offensive guard, senior Beau Benzschawel, was named a first team Walter Camp All-American along with him Thursday.

“It means everything,” Taylor said during the Home Depot College Football Awards, which was televised by ESPN. “The guys that have won it at my school, they’re some of the best to ever run the ball.”

Taylor, from Salem, New Jersey, became the fourth Doak Walker Award winner from Wisconsin, joining former winners Melvin Gordon (2014), Montee Ball (2012) and Ron Dayne (1999). He also was a Doak Walker finalist last year, and is only the fourth player in FBS history to rush for more than 1,900 yards in back-to-back seasons.

As for that UM defense, it ranks second nationally in total yards allowed, behind Michigan, with 268.3 yards allowed a game. Michigan allows 262.5 yards a game. In a 38-13 loss at Michigan on Oct. 13, Taylor ran for 101 yards, his second-worst rushing performance of the season. His worst performance: 46 yards on 11 carries in a loss at Northwestern on Oct. 27.

Miami’s run defense is 24th nationally, allowing an average of 127.5 yards a game.

Taylor’s best 2018 performance: 321 yards and three touchdowns in a triple-overtime victory at Purdue.

The Hurricanes are No. 1 nationally in tackles for loss (10.5 a game), No. 1 in passing yards allowed (140.8 yards a game) and No. 1 in third-down conversion percentage defense (23.7-percent).

Orange Bowl Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor runs past Michigan’s Chris Hanlon on Nov. 18, 2017, in Madison, Wisconsin. Taylor will face the Miami Hurricanes on Dec. 27, 2018, in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Aaron Gash AP

Canes senior defensive tackle Gerald Willis was named a second-team All-American this week by Sports Illustrated.

“It’s been there all year,’‘ Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said of his defense’s competitive spirit despite this season’s adversity. “There’s been quantifiable examples of our guys’ will and determination all year, and not flinching whether things are going good or bad or anywhere in between. That goes right to leadership on defense. That’s the Jaquan Johnsons and Gerald Willises and Shaq Quartermans and Mike Pinckneys and Sheldrick Redwines — we have so many guys and I think that’s what makes our group special.

“You look at what Mike [Jackson] did at corner [against Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale Nov. 24], and Trajan Bandy and the safeties, they played great. The linebackers, Romeo Finley and Zach McCloud, and the guys up front. Everybody eats and I think that’s the neatest thing about it, and they know it’s not about just one guy. It’s about everybody doing their job.”

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