Welcome back, Corey.
Now entering his senior season, Corey Clement still hasn’t gotten the breakthrough campaign he’s been hoping for. The Wisconsin running back who put up strong numbers on limited carries while backing up Badger stars Melvin Gordon and James White finally got his turn at the No. 1 job last season before injuries derailed his year.
After getting just eight carries in the season-opening loss to Alabama, Clement was sidelined for the team’s next seven games while recovering from surgery to repair a hernia. He appeared sparingly from there, playing against Rutgers and rushing for 115 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. He showed up again against Northwestern, getting just 10 touches but also hitting the end zone. Then he got his biggest workload of the campaign in the bowl win over USC, rushing 19 times for 66 yards and a touchdown.
There was also a legal situation, with Clement receiving a pair of disorderly conduct citations after he started a fight in an elevator.
It was hardly the way he envisioned his breakout year going after he combined for 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns on just 214 carries as a freshman and sophomore. So now he has a chance to finally have that breakout season as a senior.
“I would say that his head’s on right and he’s worried about the right things now,” fellow Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale said during Big Ten Media Days. “There was a lot of people in his ear, whether it was media, fans, family that were saying that last year was the year that he would have and then go to the NFL. And now after the year he had, he’s realizing how important it is right now.
“All he talks about, the only thing he says is, ‘making the play.’ So that just shows that he’s worried about the next play, and that’s what we need: the Corey Clement that we saw when he was a freshman and a sophomore, who was just out there just trying to make the biggest play. So that should be scary for defenses, but we’re excited to have him on our side.”
With the Badgers breaking in a new quarterback — and the passing game never exactly flying high even they aren’t — Clement and the rest of Wisconsin’s running back corps will be incredibly important. While backups Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal did well in Clement’s absence last season, a typically top-of-the-heap Badger rushing attack ranked just 10th in the Big Ten, averaging 150.3 yards per game.
The Wisconsin running back tradition now features a list of names a mile long, and Clement was expected to be the next addition to that list. To help navigate the Badgers through a brutal schedule — LSU in the opener, then Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern to open Big Ten play — Clement will need to get the rushing attack back to where it was under Gordon, White, Montee Ball, John Clay, P.J. Hill, Michael Bennett and Ron Dayne.
Thankfully he’ll have help in the form of Ogunbowale and Deal, who combined to rush for 1,322 yards last season. The two teamed with Clement make for a heck of a unit overall, and that could help mirror some of those Wisconsin rushing attacks of old, like when Gordon, White and Clement ran wild three years ago.
“The biggest teacher for a running back — or maybe any position — is experience,” Ogunbowale said. “That’s been huge for me, gaining that experience last season in games and kind of showing what I can do. Now that Corey comes back, that just adds another weapon for us. We’ve seen what Wisconsin offenses have done in the past when they’ve had a deep backfield, so we’re excited for that.
“There’s a lot of guys that can play, a lot of guys that probably will play. (Wisconsin running back coach John) Settle, he says that if you’re ready you will play regardless of what the situation is. It shaped up for great competition through the fall. I know I’m excited. I know those guys have a lot of confidence right now. We’re excited for the competition that we’ll have, but we’ve got a lot of weapons that we can throw at defenses out of the backfield.”
Clement will undoubtedly be the No. 1 focus, and it’ll be good to see him run again like everyone knows he can following a challenging junior season. But Wisconsin could thrive thanks to the whole group.