Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill likes to be physical. That’s why he loves playing football in the Big Ten.
“I think it’s probably the best conference to play in. It’s very physical,” Hill said. “That’s my type of football that I like to play.”
But physical play can take its toll.
After suffering an injury early in Wisconsin’s loss to Iowa, Hill was forced to miss most of the game and only saw limited action the next week against Illinois. It wasn’t the first time an injury had set the junior back.
“I’ve been in the situation before. I know what I have to do,” Hill said. “It’s all about getting out there with my guys as fast as I can.”
“My mentality is just ‘stay positive.’ Motivate the guys that are in the game.”
While Hill dealt with an injured foot, redshirt freshman John Clay shined in his chance to get the bulk of the team’s carries. Clay finished with what was then a career-high 89 yards against Iowa. In his first career start against Illinois, he ran for 88 yards.
When Hill came back healthy against Michigan State, he and Clay saw split action against the Spartans. The result: Both Badger backs finished with over 100 yards rushing. Although UW didn’t come away with the win, it did reestablish the team’s running game.
Each carried the ball 19 times against Indiana last weekend. Clay finished with a career-high 112 yards, while Hill finished with 126 yards on the ground in addition to rushing for three touchdowns.
For Wisconsin’s fourth all-time rusher, splitting carries isn’t a big deal.
“The workload is not as heavy on my shoulders,” Hill said. “When I come out of games I used to be real beat up, but now I feel fresh.”
“I don’t feel like I’m losing any carries. I like to see those guys make plays.”
Clay, who has rushed for 703 yards this season, has been helped along by the veteran Hill.
“He helps me a lot. We watch film together,” Clay said. “I’ve got questions, and I ask him.”
Though the freshman has cut into Hill’s workload, there’s no animosity.
“That’s like my little brother and [running back Zack Brown] too. … As soon as he runs a play and I see him do something he wasn’t supposed to do, I let him know right away,” Hill said. “He’s a guy that has a lot of talent. … I just want to see him keep taking steps forward.”
It’s not just off the field that Clay and Hill work off of each other either.
“It’s competitive,” Pressley said. “He knows if [Clay’s] shining, he’s got to shine too. They play off each other.”
“He tries to do a big play; I try to do one,” Clay said. “We try to counter off of each other.”
As a freshman Hill ran for 1,569 yards. Last season, thanks in part to injuries, his total dropped to 1,236 yards. After starting this season with a 210-yard performance against Akron, Hill topped 100 yards just once before the Michigan State game two weeks ago.
But the back hasn’t gotten down on himself.
“My running game hasn’t changed,” Hill said. “I still run the ball hard. … It is what it is. I just try to make the best out of it when I have the ball in my hands.”
“Even banged up, he’s a good runner,” Pressley said of Hill. “He’s the guy that we count on. He still went out there and gave it his all. People don’t see how he’s blocking on third downs, doing what he needs to do. He does what he’s asked.”
A healthy Hill affects more than just the running game too. It wasn’t until midway through the season that Dustin Sherer was named the team’s quarterback. The re-emergence of Hill and the Badgers’ running game has opened things up as Sherer becomes more comfortable running the offense.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback,” Hill said. “They’ve got to respect our running game.”
Now, as Wisconsin finds itself trying to string together a winning streak to end the season, Hill believes the running game needs to keep up the level of play from the last couple of weeks.
“When the ball’s in our hands we want to make something happen,” Hill said. “The past two weeks we’ve been doing a good job, and we just want to keep that rolling.”