Wisconsin Football: How John Clay Saved His Job Against Minnesota

Tommy Torkelson@Tommy_TorkelsonCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2010

As any Badgers fan could tell you, John Clay hasn't been John Clay this season. He's been hesitant with his cuts and runs on misdirections, and he's had trouble plowing through people that he would have easily run through last season.

Is Clay just having a down year? Or is he no longer worthy of the starting role in Madison?

After his three touchdown, 111-yard performance to ensure a Badgers victory in the annual rivalry game against the Golden Gophers, he's silenced some of his detractors.

The knock against Clay as of late, was that he was losing his productivity, while true freshman James White was stepping up well enough to possibly fill that void and take Clay's place.

"There's no slack when one of us comes out of the game," White said. "If Clay comes out, I go in, there's no slack."

So, in essence, the Badgers keep a strong rushing attack, even when 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Winner Clay is out of the game.

It also helps they have one of the most dominant offensive lines in college football, too.

Clay, though, had early season aspirations to win a Heisman, repeat as OPTY, and lead the Badgers to a Big Ten title and possibly more.

His season hasn't been bad by any means, but his ankles have held him back. He's averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season, up from his 2009 average of 5.3.

So why is it then that Clay was possibly going to lose the starting job even averaging nearly a yard better per carry than his last season?

The emergence of White has given coach Bret Bielema another option in the backfield.

The duo of Clay and White, has been a versatile change-of-pace attack for the Badgers, who rank 13th in the country running the ball.

With Clay's downhill running style, and White's big-play speed and agility, defenses are stretched to cover both styles of the run game.

White is able to break away from defenders, and Clay is able to wear people down through pounding the ball.

Now, if White were able to do both—run with strength and speed—Clay might be out of a job right now.

Luckily for Clay, he's the "smash" to White's "dash."

The Badgers benefit from his wear-you-down style of running, and he sets the table for the passing game as well, drawing defenses into the box. White, on the other hand, forces coverages to play sideline to sideline as he's able to push the ball outside the tackles.

Clay's three touchdowns helped the Badgers nail down a big victory over Minnesota in the "Paul Bunyan's Axe" rivalry matchup, and get back into the Big Ten discussion again.

Coach Bielema had even gone as far as to say they'd be opening up the starting job to a competition between Clay and White.

He's also said that throughout the season, both will get consistent shares of the ball.

White has given Bielema's good faith some backing.

On just 63 attempts, he's totaled 7.9 yards a carry, 485 yards, and eight touchdowns.

Clay gave Bielema something to think about though, with his bounce-back game.

It was his fifth game of 100-plus yards, and third game of two touchdowns or more this season.

For the Badgers to continue their turnaround after a big rivalry win, they will require nearly perfect offensive and defensive execution against Iowa and Ohio State.

The Badgers will need every hard-fought yard from Clay if they hope to win against the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes, and it appears that Clay has turned his game around in time to turn the season around.


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