Melvin Gordon rushed for 2,587 yards last season, a total so eye-popping it went down as the second-best rushing season in college football history.
You just knew the first two words in a preview of Corey Clement were going to be “Melvin Gordon.”
They’re two words that Clement, Gordon’s successor as the No. 1 running back at Wisconsin, is sick of hearing.
“It sucks. I’m tired of it,” Clement said of being constantly compared to Gordon, who was the No. 15 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. “I can only be Corey Clement to the only extent possible. I mean it’s great to be compared to (Gordon) in the sense of, ‘Wow, you and Melvin were on the same team?’ But not statistical-wise. You look at my carries, I had 140-something compared to 300-something carries by Melvin. I really couldn’t show as much as he did because he got more of the opportunity.
“I think at the end of the day, I guess when my season’s over, then you guys can do all the comparison you guys want because I can only be Corey Clement.”
Clement is going to get those carries this season, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that he’ll be the next in a long line of superstar backs for the Badgers.
It started with Ron Dayne in the late 1990s. Dayne rushed for four 1,000-yard-plus seasons and two 2,000-plus-yard seasons in his four years as starter, finishing his career as college football’s all-time rushing leader. After Michael Bennett rushed for 1,681 yards in 2000, Anthony Davis put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2001 and 2002. Brian Calhoun restarted the 1,000-yard trend in 2005 before three straight 1,000-yard seasons from P.J. Hill. John Clay was a 1,500-yard rusher in 2009, and James White went for 1,000 in 2010. Montee Ball strung together back-to-back dominant seasons, nearly reaching the 2,000-yard mark in each. Then Gordon took over, going for 1,650 in 2013 before his monstrous season in 2014.
It’s Clement’s turn to take the baton and, well, run with it.
“Just being able to be in that primary role is outstanding,” Clement said. “It gives me a chance to break out of my mold and transform into a different back than I am.”
Clement is poised to do great things after doing great things already in minimal roles during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Playing behind both Gordon and White in 2013, Clement rushed for 547 yards and scored seven touchdowns. He had three 100-yard games that season including a 149-yard, two-touchdown performance against lowly Tennessee Tech, a game in which all three guys eclipsed the 100-yard mark. He put up those numbers on just 13 carries.
Last year, as the guy behind the guy having one of the best seasons in college football history, he came incredibly close to reaching four digits himself, rushing for 949 yards and hitting the end zone nine times on the ground with two more scores through the air. He had three more 100-yard-rushing days, including a 164-yard effort against Illinois, again on just 13 carries.
Wisconsin has a new coach in town in Paul Chryst, but Chryst’s really an old coach after running the offensive under Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema for six seasons. The Wisconsin run game thrived under his stewardship, with backs Calhoun, Hill, Clay, White and Ball having their big years in Chryst’s offense.
Chryst knows that in returning he’s come back to quite the rushing tradition and that he has a new face ready to establish himself as the next in that tradition in Clement.
“It has been an important position for a long time. And I had the chance to get to know Corey. I recruited him out of high school,” Chryst said. “I think this is the sign a great program. He's had mentors at the position. I think Melvin and the way that he approached it. Before that, James White. And so I think Corey has got a clear expectation of what it is to be the running back at Wisconsin. I think I also have had some great conversation with Corey and that he knows who he is and he knows that he doesn't have to be Melvin, doesn't have to be James. And so I like where he's at right now. I think he's excited for this next step in his progression as a player. And that's being you know, the starting tailback at Wisconsin which has been a position that's had a lot of great players ahead of him. And I think he's confident that he can add to that list. And I think he's excited for that opportunity quite honestly.”