When redshirt junior running back Corey Clement took the field for the Badgers just two minutes into last Saturday’s game against Rutgers, the home crowd let him have it. After he scored his first touchdown of the season just under five minutes later, he let the crowd have it back, tossing the ball in the air and earning an excessive celebration penalty.
Fans and players alike seemed like they couldn’t care less about the penalty. Their running back had returned from the surgical depths of Germany and gave them something they had lacked for most of the season—a consistent rushing attack.
Clement finished the game with 115 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries, an all-around solid output given his limited playing time and lack of complete health. He admitted after the game that he was not able to go full speed.
"I'd say [I was] a good 85 percent," he said. "The next 15 is just getting my stride back. My first 15 yards, I still have the burst that I came into college with. That can only keep progressing as time goes on."
On his longest run of the night, that was clearly evident. His 58-yard burst was actually the longest rush by anyone on the entire team all season, but he was brought down from behind, four yards short of the endzone, pulling up and slowing down as he got closer to the goal line.
“Everybody knows that’s very uncharacteristic for me to get caught, and I don’t think I’ve got caught since I’ve been in college,” Clement said. “I try to use that as a little motivation boost, but if I was 100 percent, he wouldn’t have got me.”
Getting Clement to the open field was really a team effort by the offensive line, tight ends and fullbacks. On this run, Wisconsin lined up in singleback formation with redshirt senior wide receiver Alex Erickson as the single receiver to the left and a trio of blockers lined up tight to the right.
Redshirt sophomore Troy Fumagalli was up on the line of scrimmage as a normal in-line tight end, with redshirt senior fullback Derek Watt lined up to his outside, two yards off the line and redshirt sophomore fullback Austin Ramesh aligned on the inside two yards back, set up behind and between Fumagalli and redshirt freshman right tackle Beau Benzschawel.
The Badgers ran a fairly common toss sweep run, where the tight end (Fumagalli) and right guard (redshirt freshman Walker Williams) block down on their inside defenders so the right tackle (Benzschawel) and center (redshirt freshman Michael Deiter) can pull to the outside of the tight end and act as the lead blockers on the play.
The two other tight ends/fullbacks stacked to the outside are asked to block the outside defenders who are holding contain, creating the outside seal for the hole. Fumagalli’s down block is designed to form the inside seal for the hole, and the pulling Benzschawel and Deiter go to the second level to seal off the linebackers and safeties coming over top.
As Clement gets the pitch, you can see that Ramesh and Watt have done their jobs to seal the outside linebacker and cornerback to the outside, creating a very clear lane. Fumagalli is hidden in the image, as he is behind a defender, but you can still see Deiter executing his pull around the spot where Fumagalli is actually blocking.
The lane for Clement to run through is clear and wide, and you can see a blurry Benzschawel already at the second level to meet the near inside linebacker (strongside) on the outside to further that edge. Meanwhile, Deiter (circled) is working his way up to where the safety and the backside linebacker (weakside) are coming over. Both the safety and linebacker are going to over-pursue to the outside, allowing Dieter to actually block one into the other, taking both out of the play.
Clement still hasn’t gotten past the line of scrimmage, but Benzschawel already has the inside linebacker blocked to the outside, and Deiter has met both the safety and the backside ‘backer (signified with stars), pushing them both outside. This leaves only the backside defensive end (circled) to try to make a play on the running back, in pursuit.
Already at the third level of the defense, Clement gives his run a little burst and shakes off the defensive end into the open field. He is eventually chased down by Rutgers’ free safety, who is further upfield off of the frame, who was wise to not give up on the play.
This big run came down to Rutgers’ sloppy defense and a lack of lane discipline that the UW blockers were able to take advantage of. Fumagalli’s down block was not very strong, but it did just enough to allow Clement to get by.
The Scarlet Knights’ outside linebacker and cornerback did their job by holding contain, but on the second level, the assignment for contain was clearly mixed up as the safety and both linebackers went outside, allowing Benzschawel and Dieter to block three defenders out of the play.
Redshirt senior left tackle Tyler Marz failed to execute a reach block on the backside defensive end that almost kept this run to a short gain, but Clement’s burst kept the run alive. Redshirt freshman left guard Micah Kapoi also did a good job of getting to the third level and getting his hands on the deep safety to give the slowed Clement extra separation.
The Wisconsin running back ultimately didn’t want to overdo it. This run was his last of the day, coming while his team was up 34-10 late in the third quarter. His team didn’t need him to carry them at that point, but the snaps were still valuable to get him back into game shape.
"It's just not wanting to extend so much that it hurts," Clement said. "I was trying to do everything that I could. Striding wasn't going too well, so I'll get that back sooner or later."
Earlier in the game, he didn’t need to get into his stride or push himself too much to reach the endzone. Late in the second quarter, on a third and three from the Rutgers 21 yard line, the Badgers came out in the same formation as the previous run with the exact same personnel, just flipped to the opposite side.
With the tight end/fullback trio to the left and Erickson alone on the right, the same concept is applied to the heavy side. Fumagalli is again going to down-block, along with the left guard (Kapoi), allowing the center (Deiter) and the left tackle (Marz) to pull to the outside to set up the second level blocks.
Here again, the outside linebacker and cornerback set up to the outside to contain the run, so Watt and Ramesh seal them out there. Fumagalli blocks down on the defensive end and Kapoi gets the nose tackle to allow for the pulls. As the play develops, the near inside linebacker will set up outside again to try and funnel the run back inside, and the safety does the same at the third level.
Fumagalli’s down block is not particularly strong, and he gets stood up a bit by the defensive end, squeezing the running lane. On the other side, the outside linebacker gets a good push on Watt, further tightening the gap Clement can run through. The smaller lane slows Marz’s pull block, which happens to allow his defender to get further outside, making the left tackle’s block all the more easy. Note that the backside linebacker is once again going to over-pursue, this time upfield and to the inside.
As Clement gets nearer to the line of scrimmage, the running lane becomes a little more clearer to see. You can also see how Watt is starting to lose his block to the inside, and the backside defenders near the line of scrimmage are bearing down on the inside seal. Fortunately for Clement, the patience required to wait for this lane to develop made the safety over-pursue to the outside, so all the running back needed to do was make it through the hole before it closed, in order to reach daylight.
Now at the third level of the defense, Clement has no defenders in front of him. The deep safety (designated with the star) took a terrible angle, and way over-pursued upfield. A chip block by Erickson helped slow the safety down, but Clement had a head of steam with only 13 more yards until the goal line, so no one was able to catch him on this one.
This play is another one that was sprung by down-field blocks that were made much easier by a sloppy defense that over pursued. Both Watt and Fumagalli almost blew the play with their poor blocks, but Clement was able to move just quick enough to get through the running lane before it closed.
It required some patience for this offensive line to develop the blocks on these pulls, but had Clement waited too long, Watt and/or Fumagalli wouldn’t have been able to maintain their respective seals. Understanding the timing of the line is what sets Clement above the other running backs.
“It felt like, you just have to be in stride with them,” Clement said. “It’s just all about slowing it down a bit and allowing everything to open up in front of you. I’m starting to learn how this line is working, and I’ve gotta be patient with this one.”
Sometimes, patience isn’t enough. A running back can only do so much when the offensive line doesn’t create openings. Five of Clement’s 11 carries went for four or fewer yards, often with many of the same types of blown up plays that running backs Dare Ogunbowale (redshirt junior) and Taiwan Deal (redshirt freshman) faced.
This is the exact same formation and the exact same play call as the previous touchdown run, this time with slightly different personnel (adding another wide receiver instead of Ramesh). The toss sweep goes left, but Fumagalli gets whipped, Marz whiffs, and three defenders meet Clement at the line of scrimmage.
The difference between that run and the the touchdown run had absolutely nothing to do with the running back. It goes to show that Clement’s return is not going to solve all of this team’s rushing woes and that Ogunbowale and Deal were doing the best they could with the blocking they were given.
It isn’t unreasonable to think that Ogunbowale could have scored a touchdown on either of the two Clement runs outlined above. All it took from the running back was some initial patience and one quick burst, two things Clement does extremely well, but Ogunbowale is also capable of.
Clement isn’t at 100 percent, and we haven’t seen him running at full strength just yet, but it’s easy to get carried away with the big runs that are so often sprung by the nine guys blocking for the ball carrier instead of the runner themselves.
Clement is a playmaker who brings a dynamic threat to this offense that it was missing. That is undeniable. But success for the Wisconsin rushing attack starts and ends with the offensive line. As that unit gels and becomes more consistent with their now seemingly-stable lineup, their run blocking should improve, coinciding perfectly with the return of the savior at running back.
Game footage from the Big Ten Network.