Wisconsin’s Corey Clement practicing patience in backfield

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.”

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