MADISON, Wis. — Corey Clement can finally exhale.
No, a 2015 season full of injuries and missteps can’t be fully erased in one game, but in a 30-23 overtime loss to Ohio State last Saturday, Wisconsin’s senior tailback found himself breathing out a whole lot of mental baggage.
“I just had to smile, relax and really be thankful for the position I’m in,” Clement told Landof10.com on Tuesday after practice.
That position is the Badgers’ lead rusher — a role he definitively claimed with a 164-yard performance against the Buckeyes.
And his teammates say his performance is only the beginning.
“I feel like it’s a change,” Wisconsin running back Bradrick Shaw said. “It’s not good to take a loss, but I feel like what Corey did last week is going to help him and help us have better games.
“To get that feel for what it’s like to be more productive, I feel like he’s going to take this game and run with it.”
In the five games prior to OSU, Clement averaged just under 80 yards per contest, which is nowhere close to the type of year he hoped to have following one spent almost entirely on the sidelines because of a sports hernia and an off-campus fight. The Badgers (4-2, 1-2) needed the breakout game from Clement — for the sake of his mentality and for any hope of a shot at the Big Ten title game and a possible rematch with Ohio State or Michigan.
Shaw, a freshman, wasn’t a firsthand witness to Clement’s botched junior year, but he didn’t have to be to understand his teammate’s frustration. Though Clement never verbalized it, Shaw said he could tell the senior was starving for a statement-making game.
When it finally happened and the beast came out, so did Clement’s voice.
“On the sideline, he was up on the bleachers pumping the crowd up,” Shaw said. “He told me at halftime, ‘We’re going to walk out of this locker room winners.’ We fell short, but for him to say that, he gave us confidence to go out there and compete with OSU.”
But that confidence hasn’t replaced Clement’s humility.
“I’m happy that game happened the way it shaped out to be, but ultimately we want the win,” Clement said. “Looking back at it, I’d rather substitute the win for the type of production that I had.”
His heart is in the right place, but a nick to the Badgers’ record might be worth it in the long run of this season.
Especially because of what happens next.
Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli said the aftermath of a highly productive game is twofold: a rise in expectations and in confidence.
He would know. In a career-high performance against LSU (seven catches for 100 yards), the junior finally showed what he could do but has felt pressure to push his ceiling higher in each game since.
It’s what he anticipates from Clement.
“He knows he’s a playmaker,” Fumagalli said. “He’s got all the confidence in the world. He expects that from himself every game.”
Starting with Iowa. The Badgers travel to Iowa City on Saturday for a meeting with the Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1) in hopes of bringing the Heartland Trophy back to Madison.
Iowa is eighth in the Big Ten in rush defense, allowing 151.9 yards each game. Clement had that and then some on his own last weekend, so it’s an area the Badgers could exploit.
To do so, Clement will have to continue to focus on the details of his technique as he did against the Buckeyes.
“Just being more sudden in the type of style that I’m playing, hitting the outside when I can,” Clement said of his plans for running against the Hawkeyes. “And just being more decisive in my runs. Whatever it takes, I just can’t second-guess myself out there on the field.”
When Clement is decisive, people notice. Mainly the opponent, and mainly because he’s blowing past them, but the most important eyes on him belong to his younger teammates.
Shaw said the whole tone of the game changes when Clement gets rolling. Plain and simple, he makes the Badgers a better team.
“Seeing Corey out there makes you want to do better,” Shaw said. “Seeing him run helped me be more confident when I got in (against Ohio State) and try to make that key run like he made in the game.”
Clement’s character hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.
“To see him go through what he went through, it made him stronger,” Shaw added. “Last year Corey didn’t have the year he wanted, but it made everyone in the room just realize, don’t take anything for granted. When you get your opportunity, it can be taken quick. When you get your opportunity, you have to go back out there and make the most of them and not care about what everybody else says about you.”
Corey Clement file
Weight: 227 pounds
Hometown: Glassboro, N.J.
High School: Glassboro
Season stats: 107 carries, 483 yards, 5 touchdowns