Wisconsin's Corey Clement practicing patience in backfield
Badgers running back Corey Clement is making the most of his limited opportunities.
By JESSE TEMPLEFS Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. -- Most freshman running backs with as much talent as Corey Clement possesses would be the featured player in college football backfields across the country. Wisconsin, of course, is unlike most backfields in America.
At Wisconsin, two running backs rank in the top 14 nationally in rushing yards per game -- and neither is Clement. Sophomore Melvin Gordon (130.6 yards) and senior James White (115.6) demand the bulk of the carries because of their on-field success.
That leaves Clement, a true freshman from Glassboro, N.J., with little room to operate. When he gets his chances, they typically come in the second half of blowout victories. Such was the case again on Saturday, and Clement once again made the most of that opportunity.
Clement carried the ball 11 times for 108 yards with two touchdowns during Wisconsin's 51-3 victory against Indiana on Saturday. In the process, he earned his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor, which was announced Monday.
"I've been around talented young backs," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said Monday during his weekly news conference. "But Corey's mental ability to be able to handle it from summer through camp through the early games when he was getting a lot of carries and playing and scoring touchdowns, gaining yards, and going through the middle of the season where some games he didn't get a snap, and then to walk in there last week and do what he did and be as prepared as he is -- he's a full package.
"I haven't been around a young man that is that well rounded mentally and physically at his young age."
Clement now ranks eighth nationally in total rushing yards among FBS true freshman running backs (515 yards). But those marks are especially astounding considering the amount of carries other freshmen tailbacks have taken.
The seven tailbacks ranked ahead of Clement are averaging 119 carries this season. Clement, meanwhile, has carried the ball just 66 times.
"It's pretty crazy to think about," White said Monday. "If he went to any other school, he'd probably be playing a lot or starting. You kind of have to take it for what it is and just keep working hard during practice."
Clement began the season with consecutive 100-yard performances during blowouts of UMass and Tennessee Tech. His 149-yard, two-touchdown effort against Tennessee Tech garnered him the first of his two conference freshman of the week honors.
But Clement carried the ball just twice for 1 yard the following week against Arizona State. He rushed four times against Northwestern and did not appear in the Iowa game three weeks later.
"You've kind of got to know your role on the team," White said. "Right now, he's not getting that much playing time, but when he does get his opportunity, he's been making the most of it. He's still working hard in practice. I tell him just keep working hard and when you get your opportunities, keep doing what you're doing."
Clement, for his part, has tried his best to maintain his focus with White and Gordon on the field.
"It has been a few weeks since I have had some touches, but I've just been being patient," Clement said after Saturday's game. "Each week in practice, I've been putting in the work so once my number was called, I was ready for each opportunity that was called for me."
On Saturday, Clement recorded his third 100-yard rushing game but first against a Big Ten opponent -- an accomplishment that was not lost on him.
"That's one of my main goals to actually say I can put up numbers against a tougher opponent who's in the Big Ten," Clement said. "Us running backs did a great job at breaking them down early in the game. Once it's my time to get called, I kind of did what I had to do."
Talking Minnesota: Every year, Wisconsin's players listen to a presentation on the importance of the history between Wisconsin and Minnesota during rivalry week. Andersen said this year's presenter would be former Wisconsin assistant coach Henry Mason, who is in his fifth year as the director of football player personnel. Mason was the Badgers' wide receivers coach from 1995-2007.
"We'll do a lot of things during the week to make sure the young kids can wrap their arms around it and understand what this rivalry is all about," Andersen said. "Maybe they had a rivalry in high school. Maybe they didn't. The kids have been in this program for a long time. They get it. They understand it. They know that you can throw all the records out. This year it happens that both teams have identical records, and there's two very good teams playing."
Wisconsin has won nine consecutive games in the rivalry. During that winning streak, Wisconsin has outscored Minnesota by an average of 39-15, but this year could be different.
Wisconsin, ranked No. 19 in the latest BCS poll, will play 25th-ranked Minnesota at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. It is the Gophers' best team in a decade.
How long did it take Andersen to realize the importance of the rivalry?
"Probably the first day I was here and coach (Barry) Alvarez walked me through and saw the axe sitting in the trophy case," Andersen said. "Doesn't take too long to realize how important it is."
Axe memories: Wisconsin seniors Chris Borland and Beau Allen shared their favorite memories from the annual battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe against Minnesota.
"I think the freshman year game was most memorable for me personally," Borland said of Wisconsin's 31-28 victory at Minnesota in 2009. "My first encounter with the game and with the axe. We won in memorable fashion. It was fun to parade it around on their stadium, in a Big Ten opening game in that stadium. It was just a great game to be a part of."
Allen, meanwhile, said he did not have a specific favorite memory but rather a broader memory of what axe week meant to him. Allen is a native of Minnetonka, Minn., which is not far from TCF Bank Stadium.
"We've got a lot of TVs in our new locker room," Allen said. "During axe week, they'll play highlights of old teams, old guys running around with the axe, chopping down the goalposts. It's funny. I saw myself on there from freshman year, just old players. It's cool to see all that footage of the guys running around. The different guys that have been here, different classes. Kind of how the uniforms have changed, people have grown older. It's pretty neat."