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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