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No. 11 Wisconsin giving RB John Clay more work

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COLIN FLY
September 14, 2010
— Wisconsin prepped John Clay in the offseason for the spotlight, the potential Heisman Trophy talk and the accolades. All the while, the 11th-ranked Badgers maintained that they'd use more than just Clay in the running game.

Not so far.


Clay took a bulk of the carries in a 27-14 win over San Jose State on Saturday, and Wisconsin abandoned the roughly equal distribution of runs between Clay, Montee Ball and freshman James White in the season-opening win a week earlier at UNLV.


Clay finished with 137 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against the Spartans. Ball ran for 31 yards on nine attempts and White had 25 yards on six runs.


"We're going to go with who's hot," coach Bret Bielema said Monday. "We have who is going to start the game (and) we do have a little bit of a feel for what plays each one of those guys plays better than the others."


So far, the hottest back remains Clay, especially in the second half against the Spartans, when he carried the ball on 15 of Wisconsin's 19 run attempts.


The 252-pound bruiser is still working his way back into shape following offseason surgery on both ankles. He had a few uncharacteristic stumbles by tripping on the feet of Wisconsin's massive offensive line, but he's still averaging 6.5 yards per run despite just one carry of more than 20 yards so far this season.


After a strong performance against UNLV, Clay didn't run through San Jose State as expected. Bielema said the running backs broke only a few tackles, but down the stretch, Clay clearly got stronger with 107 yards after halftime.


"You could see John's emotions on the sideline in the second half," Bielema said. "He wanted to close out that fourth quarter and he made some unbelievable runs."


Clay, last year's Big Ten offensive player of the year, now has 260 yards rushing and four touchdowns with Wisconsin (2-0) facing Arizona State (2-0) on Saturday, and the Badgers are already expecting a better performance after the sloppy effort against San Jose State.


"John does a lot of nice things instinctively," Bielema said. "It was just a little bit of an off day for everybody involved."


Especially for White, the dynamic freshman who the coach has uncharacteristically bragged about early this season for his temperament and his ability to quickly pick up the offense.


White had his first major mistake on Saturday when he reached for the end zone and fumbled the ball out of it for a touchback, one of several problems near the goal line by the Badgers in the first two games.


"We take pride in being in the red zone and scoring," Clay said after the game. "We feel like when we get in the red zone, we can't be stopped."


It makes the current trend of mistakes all the more troubling. Wisconsin has just seven touchdowns in 13 trips inside the 20, and Bielema made sure White didn't lose confidence.


"I walked over and said, 'James, I don't think you fumbled the ball on purpose, every day is a lesson for you your freshman year,'" Bielema said. "He's got so much positive energy in his life, it's going to be a good thing for him in the future."


But the present is Clay.


The junior has the nation's longest streak of consecutive 100-yard games at eight.


Last season, he had 1,517 yards and 18 TDs, running for more yards per game than 24 teams in the FBS. In two games this year, he seems poised to do something even bigger despite what he considered a lackluster performance against San Jose State.


"We sputtered," Clay said. "After we got out of our rhythm of running, it takes a while to get back into our groove."



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