Following a 26-carry day that produced 151 rushing yards and a touchdown against Michigan, Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema pointed out the finer points in the maturation of redshirt sophomore running back John Clay.
“I really thought John Clay probably would be our premier back,” Bielema said. “I really like what he’s begun to do, preparation-wise. Everyone wants to pay attention to his statistics, (but) he had a couple really nice blitz pick-ups Saturday on some play-action passes.
“Sunday … I went to my coaches about All-Big Ten nominees … you know, offensive player of the year — John Clay has just as good [of] a right to say that he has that as anybody.”
Clay has 12 touchdowns on the season and 1,124 rushing yards. He’s averaging just over five yards per carry in a strong second-year campaign.
Michigan looked vulnerable against the run Saturday, allowing two touchdowns on 229 net rushing yards.
“At Wisconsin, we really believe we should be able to run the football,” Bielema said. “It’s one of the keys to our success.”
Badgers Facing Former Coach
Saturday marks the first time UW faces former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Hankwitz served on the Badger coaching staff during the 2006 and 2007 seasons before being let go. He signed with Northwestern in January 2008.
“We knew this day was coming,” Bielema said. “It’s something I addressed to the players … it’s definitely something I know is being brought up down there and is up here as well.”
Northwestern’s defense has improved since the addition of Hankwitz. They went from allowing 31 points per game in 2007 to just 20.15 last year, ranking fourth in the Big Ten and 27th in the nation.
While at Wisconsin, Hankwitz led the Badgers in 2006 to remarkable numbers. Wisconsin ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just above 12 points a game, and fifth in total defensive yards, yielding 253.1.The following year, however, the Badgers saw marked increases in both numbers. Opponents scored 23.2 points and gained 356.6 yards per game.
“Whenever you decide to make a change like that, it’s a very difficult situation,” Bielema said. “Business is business and personal is personal. I really felt at the time I needed to make a change … but I’m sure I’m not very popular in the Hankwitz household.”
Bielema Praises Bscherer/Oglesby Will Need Surgery
Redshirt junior Jake Bscherer got the start against Michigan Saturday at right tackle, filling in for the still-ailing redshirt sophomore starter Josh Oglesby. Bscherer started the season at left guard but lost his spot when Big Ten play started. He returned to starting when Oglesby went down the week before at Indiana with a left knee injury.
Bielema asserted that Bscherer was set to start Saturday because the team doctor advised against playing Oglesby.
“If Josh looked really good, (we would have played him),” Bielema said. “But [Bscherer] did enough positive things in a tough match-up and, actually, did the week before when he was called into action. I wasn’t at that point ready to take [Bscherer] out of that role.”
Bielema also said that Oglesby will need surgery following the season, on both the left knee he injured at Indiana, and the right that had been nagging him going into that game.
“I give [Oglesby] credit,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy who’s going to need surgery at the end of the year … but he’s a guy who’s really sucked it up.”
Bscherer and the rest of the offensive line held their own against Michigan, opening up the running game and keeping the opposing front to just two sacks.
Chris Borland — Freshman of the Year?
Bielema praised freshman starting linebacker Chris Borland for his play this year, naming him as his choice for Big Ten freshman of the year.
“Chris Borland, if there is a freshman in the league that has had more of an effect on a team, I would be surprised,” Bielema said. “He’s been a defensive MVP of the league, special teams MVP of the league, he’s one of two or three players in the entire world of college football that has three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, in addition to a blocked punt and a kickoff return. Probably to seal the deal, I should probably let him kick a field goal.
“If there’s a freshman in this league that has had more of an effect on a team that’s in the upper half of its division, then I’d be surprised.”
Borland led the Badgers with 11 tackles Saturday, with seven solo tackles. He also had half a sack.