Despite early success, Badgers RB Corey Clement awaits bigger role

MADISON, Wis. — The numbers will show Corey Clement is accomplishing things only a handful of true freshmen running backs have achieved in the past decade across the Football Bowl Subdivision: 29 carries, 250 yards, three touchdowns in his first two college games.

Clement, Wisconsin’s next great running back, is one of just six FBS true freshmen to open a career with consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson set an NCAA freshman record by hitting the century mark nine straight times in 2004. Clement also was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for his 149-yard, two-touchdown performance against Tennessee Tech on Saturday.

Perhaps the most astounding footnote to Clement’s performance is this: He has yet to record a first-half carry. The only reason he’s played enough to set records is because Wisconsin has thoroughly dominated its first two opponents, 93-0, with James White and Melvin Gordon as the Badgers’ primary running backs.

“It’s kind of surprising because being a freshman, I didn’t know I’d get the amount of touches that I got so far,” Clement said. “Am I surprised about it? Yeah, I’m kind of surprised but not really because all summer I worked hard and I was kind of expecting that I would break sometime. I wasn’t working hard over the summer for nothing, so I expected some of that.”

The question moving forward is whether Clement has done enough to earn more meaningful carries — and whether he is prepared if those carries don’t materialize as the opposition grows tougher and the games tighter.

Clement likely will be provided with the first real opportunity to see where he stands when No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) travels to face Arizona State (1-0) at 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday.

“When they’ll come, they’ll come,” Clement said of his touches. “As Arizona State approaches, I understand the type of game that we’re coming up to. We had two lead-up games, Tennessee Tech and UMass were like teams, but Arizona State is kind of a tough opponent.

“I’m hoping Melvin and James have a great game so I can hopefully get in because normally in the past few games I’ve been getting in based on we were blowing them out. Hopefully I can get in the rotation early and help contribute.”

Clement is averaging 8.6 yards per carry and has the longest run from scrimmage among the team’s three tailbacks — a 75-yarder for a touchdown against Tennessee Tech. But Gordon (12.9 yards per carry) and White (7.6 yards per carry) have proven to be equally effective, leaving little room for Clement in the backfield.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said it would be a “tough situation” to get Clement involved more because of the success of White and Gordon.

“I don’t see it changing at all from the way it’s been the first two games,” Andersen said. “Corey is the third back without question. When he’s needed to be in there, we’ll give him an opportunity.”

Andersen added that the entire team had gained faith in Clement, and he would have no reservations about putting him into a game early, though his role doesn’t call for such a move at this stage.

If there is one coach who has seen Clement’s development most, it’s Badgers running back coach Thomas Hammock, who is gaining a reputation for producing quality tailbacks.

Hammock said he wasn’t surprised by what Clement accomplished in the first two weeks based on his skill set and work ethic.

“It was just a matter of getting him out there,” Hammock said. “Like anything else, you can’t be afraid to throw a freshman out there. He’s got some confidence and he knows what to do. It’s just a matter of seeing if the opportunity presents itself.”

Clement certainly isn’t used to taking a back seat to anybody. He set South New Jersey records for single-game (479) and single-season (2,510) yardage totals, as well as career rushing yards (6,245) at Glassboro High School. But he continues to say the right things and demonstrate his willingness to embrace Wisconsin’s team concept, particularly with a crowded backfield.

“A lot of people told me to stay patient, your time will come,” Clement said. “So that’s what I’ve been doing throughout each game, each quarter. I’ve just been analyzing the game. If I’m not in the game, I’m actually still in the game mentally. I’m not out of the game completely.

“Once I’m on the sideline, I’m just visualizing defenses. It kind of benefits me so when I see them and see what goes wrong, I see the adjustments I can make. So once I get in, I’m not making too many mistakes.”

Even during a blowout victory, Saturday’s second half provided yet another example of Clement having to cede playing time to an upperclassmen. Clement carried twice for 13 yards down to the 2-yard line but came out of the game to make way for White, who scored a touchdown on the next play to put Wisconsin ahead 34-0 in the third quarter.

Clement would go on to score the final two touchdowns of the game but could have had more.

“That’s where the patient part comes in,” Clement said. “I congratulate them on every touchdown. I wasn’t selfish. When I got out the game, I got down to the 2, and James came in, I wasn’t mad at all. It’s his senior year. He deserves every touch he gets. He’s been working every year that he’s been here, so I respect him.”

Through two games, the number of carries among Wisconsin’s top three tailbacks is misleading because of the lopsided results. White has 32 carries, Clement 29 and Gordon 22. That ratio figures to change considerably, beginning this week.

White, for one, has no doubt Clement is capable of handling a bigger role. The key, of course, is Clement’s willingness to remain patient until that role arrives.

“He could do that job,” White said. “I know he’s waiting on his opportunity. He’s going to go out there and work hard during practice so when that opportunity does come, he’s ready for the moment.”

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