September 28, 2010

Clay, feeling fresh, geared up for conference play

MADISON - One of the questions Bret Bielema was asked by an inquiring Badger football supporter last week at a Mendota Gridiron Club meeting regarded junior tailback John Clay.

Go figure.

"It was a younger guy who thought he knew a lot," Bielema said with a wry grin. "He came up and said that we've got to get Clay involved more. (That) he seems to be really good at the beginning of the game and really good at the end of the game.

"I said, 'Exactly.' You answered your own question."

Clay, though he has been limited on a pitch count of sorts through UW's first four games, has still rushed for 100-plus yards in each game. He has also scored a touchdown in each game.

They say hindsight is 20-20, and after the non-conference portion of the schedule the idea of keeping Clay rested, but yet productive, is starting to take focus.

"John is going to get yards and he's going to get stats," Bielema said. "Really, that's a byproduct of what we do. John benefits by being a tailback in our program just like James benefited and Montee benefited. That's the part that we can kind of recruit to here.

"You can come here to be that guy. If you don't want to be that guy we'll get somebody else and just do what we do."

What Wisconsin does is run the ball. And they do it well. Through four games, UW is averaging more than 257 yards per game on the ground, good for 10th in the country. Clay, Ball and White together average 5.7 yards per carry, and that's including a game against Arizona State with a trio of stellar linebackers.

Yes, the true test will start this weekend against Michigan State, but the groundwork has been laid for future success this season.

Clay, who was limited throughout fall camp after missing the entirety of spring camp, averaged 19 carries per game at an average rate of 6.5 yards per carry. Surely he could have had more reps and carries throughout the non-conference slate and even higher, gaudier numbers, the fact that he's performing at a high clip is what stands out to his head coach.

"I don't worry about his numbers or anything," Bielema said. "I worry about his performance. That's what we're going off of."

In comparison to Clay, Ball is averaging just over 10 carries per game while White is averaging 8.5. The distribution has been fairly consistent throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule and seems to have Clay fresh entering Big Ten play.

"I'm feeling healthy," Clay said following his 118-yard performance against Austin Peay. "I'm not beat up or bruised up. I'm able to get ready and prepare for the long haul of the Big Ten season and the pound the ball style of our offense.

"I'm ready for it."

If you remember, Clay had a breakout game of sorts two years ago at Michigan State. In that game, he rushed for 111 yards on only 14 carries. Last season against the Spartans, Clay tallied 142 yards on 32 carries in a 38-30 UW win.

He has rushed well against MSU in the past. And now that he's as fresh as he's ever been entering conference play, it's not far fetched to believe that will continue.

"I think that was one of his first ones where he kind of was the guy that stepped forward," Bielema said in reference to the MSU game two seasons ago. "He's been there and done that. Now, he's even gotten better at it. As long as we continue to win and put numbers on the board he's going to have those same kind of numbers come through."

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