Since spraining his right ankle midway through the second quarter against Ohio University nearly three weeks ago, Toledo tailback Chester Taylor has done little to help his team.
He has managed just 21 carries for 47 yards (2.2 average) in his past four-plus quarters, to go along with three receptions for 13 yards and two fumbles.
Taylor has no rushing or receiving touchdowns during that stretch, although he did manage to toss his first career touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to quarterback Tavares Bolden, on an option pass against Ball State.
Taylor is a 5-11, 205-pounder whose strength is a quick burst through the line, something he appears to have lost on his bad ankle.
With a meaningless non-conference game coming up against winless Navy Saturday at the Glass Bowl, it may be the perfect time for UT coach Tom Amstutz to sit Taylor down and rest his ailing ankle.
Especially with two big Mid-American Conference West Division home games coming next month - Western Michigan on Nov. 6 and Eastern Michigan on Nov. 17.
The Rock-ets (5-1, 2-1 MAC West) must win those two games and hope Ball State (2-4, 2-0 MAC West) loses two of its remaining three games in order to win the division and host the MAC championship game. That's the simplest scenario.
A healthy Taylor is a must for the WMU and EMU games, not Navy, which is allowing 260.3 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 115th out of 117 teams in Division I-A. Also, UT is a 281/2-point favorite.
“You can just look at the stats and tell there's a difference between Chester early in the season and now,” guard Matt Comer said. “That's no inside scoop. We all know that, we all can see it.”
Amstutz, though, appears to be leaning toward starting Taylor against Navy, not backup Antwon McCray or No. 3 tailback Webster Jackson, from Central Catholic High School.
“If Chester's performance is such that he can't do what other players on our team are doing, then he'll be pulled,” Amstutz said. “If he can perform, we'll put him in there. If he can't, he won't be.”
While it's true there haven't been many holes for Taylor to run through lately, but even when there has been, he's been tentative at best.
“I'm all right,” he said the other day. “My ankle isn't 100 percent, but it's good enough to play on.”
Taylor's numbers in October certainly don't back up his statement.
He was injured against Ohio on Oct. 6 after catching a screen pass near the sideline. He sat out the final seven minutes of the second quarter, then returned for one series in the third. After gaining 22 yards on three carries and losing a fumble, he left the game for good.
Taylor had two weeks to rest, but netted eight yards on 11 carries in the first half against Ball State last Saturday. He finished with 25 yards on 18 carries, a 1.4 average.
Taylor had no carries in the third quarter against the Cardinals and was held to four yards on three straight running plays from the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, forcing UT to settle for a field goal and a 20-17 lead.
That lead quickly evaporated when Ball State's Corey Parchman returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the winning touchdown.
Taylor's longest run of the day was six yards.
In UT's first four games he had 100 or more yards three times while averaging 145.3 yards per game, 6.2 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns (12 rushing). And he truly did look like a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
That's not the case anymore.
“Chester's a tough player,” Comer said. “He's out there because he wants to try and help the team win.
“He's doing all he can, but it may come to the point soon where he has to decide if he's helping us or hurting us. That's got to be his call.”
Taylor, coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, had surgery - a prolotherapy procedure - on both of his ankles after the 1999 season.
This year he has gained 656 yards on 125 carries (5.2 average) and needs 268 more yards to become UT's all-time leading rusher. But based on his 5.2-yard average per carry, Taylor is having the worst year of his career.
McCray also is averaging 5.2 yards on 58 carries for 303 yards.
“If Chester says he's ready to go and ready to play, you've got to trust him,” Bolden said.