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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Clay plays part in shaping future

clay: UW freshman running back John Clay had 91 yards against Iowa and the Badgers need him to step up again this weekend against Illinois.

Clay plays part in shaping future

Wisconsin's 0-4 start in Big Ten play has come as a shock and disappointment to Badger fans. The frustration continued in last Saturday's loss to Iowa, as junior running back P.J. Hill re-aggravated a lower leg injury that took him out of part of the 2007 season. Saturday's homecoming game against Illinois, however, may present a gleam of hope as redshirt freshman John Clay could become the focal point of the offense with Hill's injury.  


Despite his secondary role in the rushing attack, Clay has impressed opposing defenses in 2008. He is averaging 6.03 yards per carry this season. This is compared to P.J. Hill's 4.61 yards per carry on twice as many touches. Clay's most impressive performance came against Michigan when he gained 53 yards on just three carries. The very next week he rushed for 69 yards on 10 carries versus Ohio State.  


Running backs coach John Settle compares Clay's style of running to that of P.J. Hill. John Clay is a big thumper,"" Settle said. ""He's a guy that's physical, runs downfield, [and he is] able to get his pads down and punish people '¦ if you're not careful, he'll jump over you as well."" 


When Clay came onto the scene at Wisconsin, he was a highly-touted recruit as he ranked on many scout's chalkboards as one of the nation's top high school running backs. There was no question Clay would be the future of the Badgers' running game. With future being the key word, as no one expected him to take center stage this early in his career.  


After redshirting his first season with the Badgers, Clay was able to observe P.J. Hill in action and prepare for his future. ""I talked to him all the time,"" said Clay about learning from Hill. ""You know, [I asked] what do I need to do to become a better back and be able to go out on the field and play? He just told me to be patient, stay in the playbook, and make sure I know all my assignments."" 


If Hill is inactive for Saturday's game against the Illini, Clay won't be the only one getting the ball. Sophomore running back Zach Brown will be replacing Clay's spot as the second back.  


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""[Brown] is a guy that can get to the edge and as soon as you think you got him, he runs right out of your grasp,"" Settle said. ""I think [Clay and Brown] complement each other well, and I'm looking for both of those guys to play well this weekend."" 


With the recent ineffectiveness and uncertainty of Wisconsin's passing game, the Badgers need Clay and Brown to perform well Saturday to have a shot at outscoring the high-powered Illini offense.  


In spite of Hill not practicing since the Iowa game, it has been business as usual for the other running backs. Clay explained that he was ""taking it like any other week - practice by practice, rep by rep - just making sure I'm doing my right things and asking questions.""  


Settle can explain why Clay possesses this mature attitude. He conveyed that the coaching staff had recently been grooming Clay for a situation just like this. ""He's a guy we've thrown in there in the last couple of weeks trying to get him started,"" Settle said. ""[We were] trying to expose him to conference play, you know, how physical it is."" 


If Hill's leg injury leads to missed time, the Badgers seem to be confident in his replacements. Clay, though young and in his first season of action, has learned from veterans like Hill, and he has proven he can carry the ball successfully in the Big Ten. Will this success continue as his workload increases? Saturday will be the first test.

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