Ever since Barry Alvarez took over a downtrodden Wisconsin program in 1989, the Badgers have pounded their opponents into submission with mammoth Offensive Linemen and big, bruising Runningbacks. Record-Setting runners such as Ron Dayne, Montee Ball and most recently Melvin Gordon III have cemented their legacies as Badger greats. Dayne is the NCAA all-time leading rusher, Ball has the all-time rushing Touchdown record, and Gordon has the career Yards Per Carry Record, as well as the Big-Ten single season record, rushing for 2587 yards last season.
Especially in the past five years or so, the Badgers have started to produce some gaudy and extremely impressive rushing numbers, mostly using a rotation of backs. In 2010, the Badgers touted John Clay, Montee Ball and James White. In 2011, led by Russell Wilson, Ball and White were the feature backs. In 2012, the Badgers had Ball, White and Gordon. In 2013, White, Gordon, and a little known freshman, Corey Clement. 2014 was Gordon and Clement, but Gordon experienced more individual success than any Badger since Dayne, and therefore took a lot of attention away from Clement.
Now it’s 2015. Melvin Gordon is gone, and without any clear #2 runner behind him, it’s essentially the Corey Clement show in Madison. The former 4 star recruit from Glassboro, New Jersey will now look to be the workhorse for an offense that has experienced sporadic Quarterback and Wide Receiver play the past few years to say the least. Coach Gary Andersen is gone, and in his place, former Badger Quarterback and Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst. Chryst was last in Madison in 2011, when Russell Wilson led Wisconsin to its second of three consecutive Rose Bowls. After 3 seasons at Pitt, Chryst returns to Wisconsin, bringing with him a more smashmouth, Pro Style system than was in place with Andersen and Andy Ludwig. I don’t anticipate much, if any read option schemes with Chryst at the helm, which puts more on Clement, and his lead blocker Derek Watt.
Clement is a very well put together back, listed at 5’11” and 217 pounds. He runs angrily, almost seeking contact. He imposes his will physically on the defense, rarely being tackled by one defender. He’s shown the ability to pass protect, as well as be a dependable receiver out of the backfield. Most importantly however, he could be the Big Ten’s breakout player of the year. He excelled in the zone scheme used by Ludwig, and he’ll play in a somewhat similar scheme employed by Chryst. He has good vision, and rarely misses a cutback lane. He’s also shown the ability to break big runs. He had a 43 yard run vs Auburn in the Bowl game last year, and has rushed for over 100 yards in a game 7 times. He ran for 89 yards and a touchdown in relief of Gordon vs Minnesota last season. Pair that with 111 vs Bowling Green, 164 vs Illinois and 131 and a touchdown in a homecoming game of sorts at Rutgers.
This will be his first year as the premier back, so it will be interesting to see how much the running game will fall off when Clement needs a breather. So far he’s been praised by Chryst for how he’s helped tutor the young backs, so it’ll be seen who steps up to spell Clement. Other than Ezekiel Elliot, Clement should be the front runner to lead the league in rushing. He’ll be running behind a less experienced than normal Wisconsin line, returning only 2 full time starters from last season’s team. Clement will also look to take pressure off of the heavily criticized Joel Stave, who was given the starting job by Chryst before Spring Ball even started. With the lack of receiving talent on the Badger roster, Clement will be the focal point of the offense in Madison.
If Clement can improve his wiggle as a runner, he can be a very credible threat to opposing defense as a complete back. Clement has run for over 1400 yards in his brief career, and I’m sure if you ask him, he wants to double that this season alone. His ability as a receiver, paired with his vision and physicality as a runner should make him a top candidate to contend for First-Team All-Big Ten; continuing the tradition of Badger backs.
It should be mentioned that no Badger Runningbacks have left school before completing their 4th season in Madison, so it will be worth watching to see what Clement decides to do, if he has a season as successful as it could be. Gordon and Ball both stayed for their fourth seasons, and it paid dividends for them. It would be no surprise whatsoever if Clement were in the same situation at the end of the season.
Present day, I’d say that Clement is somewhere around a 4th or 5th round pick as a runner, but could easily improve his stock with a solid Junior season, if he were to declare. Clement doesn’t have breakaway speed, but likely runs in the 4.6 range. He also has experience as a returner, so the added versatility can’t hurt his cause. He’s a complete back, who can be valuable as a blocker and receiver. I’m definitely excited to see how Clement develops as a full-time starter. Only 81 days until he lines up across from Alabama. Football is right around the corner, people!