Badgers Clay ready for redemption
MADISON Call it over aggressiveness, untimely lack of focus or simply a bad day at the office.
Whatever the reason, sophomore running back John Clay isn’t exactly sure what caused his three fumbles in Saturday’s 44-14 win over Wofford.
The only thing for certain is that Clay doesn’t plan on making the same mistakes twice, good news for a Wisconsin offense that will be fully tested by the front seven of Michigan State on Saturday at Camp Randall.
Through three games, the Spartans defense is allowing an average 87.0 rushing yards per game, fourth in the Big Ten, and 2.8 yards per carry.
“Everybody is due for one bad day,” Clay said. “I just can’t let it happen anymore. I got mine out of the way, so there’s no excuse for me to have any more like that.”
A bad day doesn’t begin describe Clay’s problems last weekend. After missing the correct read on his first two running plays, Clay’s indecisiveness on whether or not to hurdle a defender caused linebacker SeQuan Stanley to knock the ball out of his hands.
Later in the first quarter, Clay had the ball secured but still had it jarred out after safety Coleman Hornaday lowered his shoulder and hit the ball out on the UW 3, a play that sent Clay to the bench for the rest of the first half.
“I was trying to hurry up and get back out there to make up for the fumbles that I had,” Clay said. “I wanted to prove that this isn’t a problem and forcing it when I should have stepped back, relaxed and collected my thoughts instead of making a play right away.”
Clay said one of the other problems was trying too hard to make that big play, like the 72-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter the previous week against Fresno State, to make the first two fumbles a distant memory.
Given another chance in the third quarter, Clay’s eagerness caused him a third fumble on his second touch of the half, getting the ball poked out of his hands. It made three bounces on the turf, before he picked it up and ran out of bounds.
From there, Clay stayed on the sideline for the remainder of the game.
“I wasn’t staying focused,” Clay said. “I was too busy to hurry up, make the big play and overcome the fumbles. Just not staying focus really made me fumble.”
The focus became clear the next day, especially since Coach Bret Bielema wanted to—but couldn’t due to a potential NCAA violation—run ball security drills immediate following the game. Getting the ball banged, swatted and punched at, Clay proudly stated that he didn’t drop the ball during drills.
“It’s something that you need to address and then move on from it, and he’s been focused this whole week,” running back coach John Settle said. “It’s an opportunity for it to be a great learning experience for him if he learns from it. We’re going to need a good John Clay, that guy that has confidence and run behind his pads.”
Fumbling had been a rarity for Clay entering Saturday’s game. Clay fumbled four times, losing three, in 155 carries last season. He had no fumbles in his first two games (36 carries) this season. Combined with his career-high 143-yard game against Fresno State, Clay earned his first career start and averaged 5.8 yards on his 12 carries, but the fumbles might mean the Badgers will start junior running back Zach Brown instead.
Brown also fumbled against Wofford, on his second carry of the game, but came back to the sideline and promptly told the coaches it would be his last. Brown responded by rushing 10 times for 52 yards and two TDs, with no fumbles.
touchdowns, not letting the ball hit the ground again.
“Both have done a good job all week and put themselves into the discussion on Saturday,” Bielema said.
For Clay, it doesn’t matter when he comes in or when he gets his carries. The only thing the sophomore wants to do is show patience in the backfield and put Wisconsin on the right track in the conference race.
“I got to prove it to myself and my teammates that they still can count on me,” Clay said. “I want them to count on me when the game is one the line—(Saturday is) our coming out party. It’s the Big Ten opener and we’re going to show everybody in this conference what we are made of and what we can do.”