Arizona football: All-Pac-12 JJ Taylor on pace to shatter school mark

JJ Taylor is eying Ka'Deem Carey's school rushing record.Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gimino

Arizona Wildcats running back JJ Taylor has two years of eligibility remaining, and it seems like he's just getting started.

Taylor was team's leading running back as a redshirt freshman in 2017, but that season's rushing attack was all about the legs of quarterback Khalil Tate.

Taylor's breakthrough season in 2018 resulted in first-team All-Pac-12 honors on Tuesday. He and Arizona State sophomore Eno Benjamin earned top honors, while Washington's Myles Gaskin and Utah's Zack Moss were the second-team running backs, as chosen by the league's coaches.

Taylor this season showed that, even at 5-foot-6 and 184 pounds, he could be a workhorse. He had 255 carries, the fourth-most in a season in school history, caught 16 passes and mixed in duties as the team's primary kick returner, scoring on an 84-yard touchdown.

He rushed for 1,434 yards, the fourth-best single-season mark in the Arizona record books.

He now has the Ka'Deem Carey's career rushing record of 4,239 yards easily in his sights.

Carey, of course, left school early as a junior following two brilliant seasons -- 1,929 yards in 2012 and 1,885 yards in 2013. Otherwise, he might have put the school rushing record out of reach.

Taylor could end up at Arizona for five seasons. He received a medical hardship in 2016 after playing in only four games (261 rushing yards) before suffering a season-ending broken ankle.

With 2,542 career rushing yards -- ninth in school history -- he needs 1,698 more to set the UA record.

If he stays at his 2018 pace -- 119.5 yards per game -- that would equal 2,868 yards over the next two season (and that's not accounting for potential bowl appearances).

I recently asked former Arizona running back Kelvin Eafon -- the offensive team captain of the 12-1 team in 1998, when he rushed for 16 touchdowns -- about what he saw from Taylor.

"The first thing that I see from JJ is just his toughness -- just being a guy his size and being able to go out there and perform in a game usually meant for giants. Gotta respect that," said Eafon, an analyst on the pre- and postgame Arizona football broadcasts on WildcatsRadio 1290.

"And his ability to absorb a hit, stay on balance and get extra yards after contact ... or being able to shake a guy and make him miss in a small space, he's just special at that."

Taylor had a career-high 284 yards this season at Oregon State and rushed 30 times for 212 yards in a win over Oregon, but his best effort came against Colorado. Taylor ran 40 times -- the second-most in school history for a game -- and gained 192 yards. Nothing was more impressive than this refuse-to-go-down 15-yard run on third-and-9 from the Arizona 2 with about four minutes left.

The Wildcats then ran out the clock to hold on to a 42-34 win.

"There's little drills you can practice -- bear-crawling with one hand -- but that was just natural," Eafon said of that run.

"That is something nobody can teach. That's him having those cat-like reflexes. That is something where he just reacted and had the determination he needed to keep the chains moving. That's heart and determination."

Arizona's season is over, but bowl games still have to be counted into the national stats. Taylor is second nationally in all-purpose yardage with 175.58 per game, trailing Memphis running back Darrell Henderson (179.08).

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (170.75) is third and Purdue true freshman wideout Rondale Moore (170.67) is fourth.