MADISON -- Over the past few years, Wisconsin has enjoyed the luxury of sporting a three-headed monster in the backfield. While this year's running back unit isn't as established from top to bottom, it still finds itself extremely talented and competitive, led by redshirt junior running back Melvin Gordon. No. 25 deservedly gets all of the accolades and outside attention, but sophomore running back Corey Clement isn't far behind his running mate in terms of playmaking ability.
The New Jersey native, ranked a four-star recruit according to Rivals, saw immediate action as a true freshman last season, rushing for 547 yards with seven touchdowns. On 67 attempts, Clement averaged 8.2 yards per carry. Clearly, this was in a limited role and, on more than one occasion, Clement did most of his damage when the game's outcome was already decided. In the Badgers' "toughest" games (i.e. Arizona State, Ohio State, Iowa, BYU, Minnesota, Penn State and South Carolina), the running back was nowhere to be found, rushing only three times for 33 yards. With the graduation of James White, Clement is the next man up, and he's more than capable of filing in the role behind Gordon.
"I believe that Corey can walk in and play a very significant role. Now, what is that role? We shall see," head coach Gary Andersen said at the team's media day on Friday. "Corey's been in the Big Ten games. He's been in selected plays, selected moments. But now he's got to go in there when it's 0-0, go in there in the fourth quarter when we need a yard, to be able to seal the drive to keep it alive. He's got to play at crucial moments."
It can be safely assumed Gordon will get a majority of the carries this season. Depending on what those numbers are remains to be seen, but Clement will certainly see more than 67 attempts this season, barring any injury. Clement noted Friday that he is striving to be a more balanced back to complement Gordon, utilizing the weight room equipment over the summer in order to succeed that.
There's also always the possibility for strife in a scenario where the running backs couldn't work off each other, but that's far from the case with the Clement-Gordon relationship. Andersen noted there are constant competitive battles between the two in everything they do, and that extends especially to the football field. It requires patience to sit behind such a great player in Gordon, and Clement has plenty of it.
"Just make the best of your opportunity. You never know when it's going to be your last play, you never know," Clement said. "You always have to go out there and give it your all, and always congratulate your linemen because without them you're not going to get anywhere. It'd be a shame to put everything on my back because that's not who I am. I always give credit to everybody around me -- it takes 11."
At Big Ten media days earlier this week, Gordon was humble as always, displaying great maturity and leadership. He easily could have focused on himself, yet he referred to his teammates and spoke highly of them. In particular, he spoke admirably about his backfield teammate and Clement's undeniable talent.
"I think he's a great back," Gordon said. "I think he'll definitely be a back that people talk about when he leaves [Wisconsin]. Explosive runner. Real hard worker in practice, and on the field it shows. He got limited carries, but I think he made the best out of every opportunity he got. He has speed and I think his biggest attribute is power. I don't think people understand how physically strong he is."
Gordon later added that Clement will "be a star really soon," and Clement was just as generous back to Gordon, acknowledging the lessons he learned from the Heisman Trophy contender. "I had to chase after him. It was hard and it's still kind of hard," Clement said, who also told reporters he added two pounds over the offseason.
"Melvin is a great guy to keep up with; that's what is going to make me a better player in the long run. It's just always finding that person that's always going to make you a better person.
"If I was at another school, I don't think I would be in this position that I'm in right now because of Melvin. Top in the country, he knows what he has to do, and why not follow after the best guy in the country, and try and beat him everyday in practice?"