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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Zetlin: Time to build with more Clay

There are some things in life I simply can’t understand: How was so much information put on the Internet in such a short amount of time? How was Bush re-elected for round two? Why did it take the Lions seven years to fire Matt Millen?

Saturday, something was added to the list.

While many of you were either yelling at your TV or were too awestruck to formulate words during the Badgers’ meltdown in Michigan four days ago, I was looking for J.C.


No, not that J.C.; this had nothing to do with religion — though I was in college football’s holy place that seats nearly 110,000.

I’m talking about a different J.C., the one from Racine who’s harder to bring down than a redwood with a butter knife: UW redshirt freshman John Clay.

On third-and-one from the Wisconsin 49-yard line, with about six minutes left in the second quarter, quarterback Allan Evridge handed the ball off to Clay for his first carry of the game, a shifty cutback right for 46 yards. One play later, Clay cut back the other way and jogged into the end zone for the Badgers’ first touchdown (and productive offensive drive) of the game.

Two carries, 51 yards and six points faster than you could say “P.J. who?”

Minutes later, the home crowd booed the Wolverines, and then-No. 9 Wisconsin coasted into the locker room with a 19-0 lead.

Then came the confusion, as Evridge continued to hand the ball off to P.J. Hill and Zach Brown to begin the second half. Where was No. 32?

“He must be hurt,” I thought. “This makes no sense.”

But then I spotted him, helmet on, front and center on the UW sideline.

Clay finished the game with three carries for 52 yards and one touchdown. Get your calculators out: three minus two, 52 minus 51. That’s right: one carry for one yard in the second half, after averaging 25.5 yards per rush in the first.

“What I ask our coaches to do all the time is put the players in the game that you feel gives us the best chance to win at every situation,” head coach Bret Bielema said Saturday after the biggest home comeback win in Michigan football history. “The players that were in there were the ones they [offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and run game coordinator Bob Bostad] felt did.”

Um, would 26 yards a carry have convinced them? 27?

“Coach Chryst and Coach Bostad had a game plan,” center John Moffitt told me after the game. “What they were trying to run, they were trying to run. I’m not trying to second-guess who’s in the game and who’s not.”

Fine, I will.

I understand that Hill is the feature back. With that I have no problem. My problem rests in the mid-game inflexibility of the UW coaching staff. When one player is that productive on two first-half carries, you give him the ball more than one more time, whether the game plan calls for a baker’s dozen worth of Hill off-tackle lefts and a handful of Brown draws on third and long or not.

Kobe Bryant is always option No. 1 for the Lakers, but sometimes Sasha Vujacic can’t miss from deep, so Phil Jackson tells them to keep feeding the sharp-shooting Slovenian.

What if Saturday was Clay’s day? What if it’s not a mirage and the kid’s as good as his 6.6 yards per rush on the season seems to be?

We’ll never know because they didn’t give him a chance. Instead, Hill finished the game with 22 carries for an unimpressive 70 yards, and the Badgers’ defense was on the field longer than a 9:30 a.m. power lecture because the offense couldn’t move the chains.

But coach had an answer.

“The play that normal people don’t see is a play that John was in where the game was extremely tight, and he went the wrong direction,” Bielema explained Monday. “But as coaches, now you get in a situation where you know every play counts and you’re in the third and fourth quarter, and you know P.J. Hill has been there, done that and has done certain things, and you know he’s at least going to go the right way.”

Fair enough, but two first-half carries for 51 yards isn’t good enough to test during a second-half first down drought? It was clear that Hill’s nine carries for 25 yards in the second half weren’t getting the job done. A third-and-one option to the left is a better alternative than sending Clay back out there for more than one more chance? Really?

“I am a little bit (disappointed),” Clay said of his offensive ostracism Saturday. “But I know they have a plan, and I just listen to them.”

Textbook Orwellian playerspeak from the rookie; I’d expect nothing less. But if he’s not going to say anything, who will?

This isn’t about Saturday, blown leads, spilled milk or Michigan. The season isn’t over for this Wisconsin football team. No. 14 Ohio State and No. 6 Penn State are coming to town. Two wins, and the Badgers are right back in it.

But if the UW offense is as inefficient as it was Saturday, expect nothing more than an 0-3 conference commencement.

So I’ll say it: If Bielema and Co. are looking for more offensive output, the foundation needs to be reinforced with more Clay.

Starting this Saturday.

Derek is a junior majoring in economics. Would you like to see more carries for John Clay? E-mail Derek at [email protected].

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