White, not Clay, getting attention for Badgers

October 6, 2010

John Clay said he never wanted the attention of a Heisman Trophy pursuit or a streak of 100-yard performances. He's certainly getting more quiet time these days.

Freshman James White is grabbing the spotlight from the burly back, and it was never more apparent than during the offense's weekly meeting with the media.

Two people talked to Clay briefly. White had a horde surrounding him for about 15 minutes.

''We're two different styles of runners. I'm a bruiser,'' the 252-pound Clay said. ''His skill is breaking away from people and breakaway speed, so we complement each other.''


Problem is, Clay hasn't looked like that bruising running back who punished opponents down the stretch last season on his way to 1,517 yards, 18 touchdowns and the Big Ten offensive player of the year award.

Clay had offseason surgery on both ankles and he acknowledged it's taken him time to get comfortable for the 20th-ranked Badgers this year.

Clay had a strong start in nonconference play, but Michigan State held him to 80 yards rushing on 17 carries while the 195-pound White scored two touchdowns on 10 carries and added 98 yards.

''Things will come your way if you keep being positive,'' White said. ''I keep doing what my coaches are telling me to do and I'll be all right.''

Coach Bret Bielema said White, who has been the conference's freshman of the week each of the last two weeks, has earned more playing time based on his performance.

''It jumped out to you right away on film on Sunday,'' Bielema said. ''He's a guy that football-sense-wise really, really gets it.''

But the coach isn't writing Clay out of the script when Wisconsin (4-1, 0-1) plays Minnesota (1-4, 0-1) on Saturday.

''John is very aware that the more success that James has, it actually helps him, he doesn't have to play every down, he doesn't have to take every rep and his legs can remain fresh,'' Bielema said.

Michigan State snapped Clay's streak of 10 straight games of at least 100 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown.

''It's a good thing and a bad thing,'' Clay said. ''(I'm) not having to worry about that or having it in the back of my mind, like 'Oh, I need this to keep this streak.' ... I lost the streak, but it gives me a chance to really just focus on playing my type of game and just pound the ball.''

Bielema said that even though Clay received numerous accolades, he didn't come into the season only to repeat as Big Ten offensive player of the year. Turns out the helium in his Heisman campaign is quickly dispersing, too.

''I'm just focusing more than anything on the team. Last year, I didn't have to worry about any of that and I played an excellent season,'' Clay said. ''I'm just trying to get back to that mindset - being that last year player but being even better.''

For White, it's his first trip through the Big Ten and his first look at the rivalry game against the Gophers. Wisconsin has held Paul Bunyan's Axe after each of the last six meetings.

Things certainly keep getting better for the speedy back from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. After averaging 5.3 yards per carry in his first three games, White has exploded for 243 yards on 21 carries - an 11.6 average - and six touchdowns in Wisconsin's last two games.

''James is being productive and John is being productive,'' Wisconsin lineman John Moffitt said. ''If they are splitting time, it's working with our system.''

And Wisconsin believes there's no wrong answer to who will be the featured running back.

''I really do believe, just because I know what John Clay can do, we probably have two of the best running back combinations that I've been around,'' Bielema said. ''And that's been some pretty good backs.''