November 24, 2010

Clay still a work in progress

MADISON - If you're John Settle life is pretty good right now. Even though his Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay has missed the past two games, his backup tailbacks have still compiled well over 300 yards rushing in routs over Indiana and Michigan.

Overall, things are going pretty well in regards to the ground game.

Following Tuesday's practice, had a chance to catch up with the man in charge of the tailbacks. The following is a question and answer with Settle.

Is Clay ready to go and if not you've got two guys that are playing at a pretty high level?

Settle: He came out today and we kind of eased him back into it and into the flow of things. He looked fresh. He had good burst, ran the ball hard and ran well. He was able to stay out and practice the whole practice. We'll just have to see how his body responds tonight (Tuesday) and see where he is tomorrow (Wednesday). We'll see if any soreness sets in or any swelling sets in.

But you're right. We've got two young guys that are playing with a great deal of confidence right now. The team has a great deal of confidence in them and I kind of like the way they're going.

If John was able to play how do you work him in there with the way those guys are playing? That's easier said than done, I'm sure.

Settle: That's something that we'll address as the week goes on. We'll come up with a plan. I lean heavily on coach Paul Chryst as a coordinator. We'll have a package for each guy, something along those lines. I'll have a game plan for how we would use each one. Then we'll just move forward from there.

When you look at the way Montee Ball has been playing really since that Iowa game, was there ever a time when it just finally clicked for him? Maybe clicked isn't the right word. Was there ever a spark or a time when you maybe saw him take his game to the next level?

Settle: That's the game. I think what had happened was that for the first time he had had football taken away from him. He was standing over there on the sideline with me watching those guys play. I honestly believe that he always thought in the back of his mind, 'If I get another chance this year.'

He came in and he studied every week as if he was going to play. He studied himself and he studied the opponent. We talked about some of the things that he needed to correct and he worked on those things in practice. Not that he had a perfect game yet, but you can see every week that he's getting better.

The one thing that he tried to do early was that he was trying to be somebody else. He saw how quick James White was and some of the things James did. He was trying to be a James White. Well, he's a Montee Ball. I wanted him to be the best Montee Ball he could be and use his strengths to his ability. That's the thing he's done. He understands now that he's 230-something pounds and he's not 212. He's running with authority and he's being physical which is what I like.

Were you surprised that maybe he was getting out of his game a little bit?

Settle: Well that happens sometimes. A guy comes in and every practice he makes a big play. It's human nature. You see that and then you're like, 'Well, I want to make a big play when I get in.' Then you do things that are uncharacteristic.

He was kind of like the middle child. You had James who was the little quick guy and John who was the big bruiser. He was right in the middle. So he had to find his own identity and work on his own game. He needed to be true to who he was and that's the thing that he's done.
I'm happy for him, proud that he stuck with it and that he's done everything that it's taken to get to this point.

You know what these guys are capable of doing because you're coaching them all the time and you're seeing them year round. But when you see what these guys have done over the past two weeks -350 yards-plus - does that catch you by surprise sometimes?

Settle: Oh yeah. I've always said when you look at James White that he plays beyond his years. He's mature and every time he touches the ball he's got a chance to go and make a big play. The thing that has happened is that because Montee has picked his game up has given us an opportunity to move the ball in chunks.

We've had more big plays in the last couple of weeks than we've have in the long time since I've been here. I think that's the one thing that they are guys who are young and playing very, very well right now.

How has John handled not playing and missing a couple of games? He's not a guy that has missed a lot of time during his career.

Settle: He's handled it well. I like the fact that he's coaching those guys. If you watch him the last couple of weeks when they come off the field he's there and he's talking to them. Sometimes I'll talk to them when they come off the field and then he'll continue to emphasize the points that we made. He's always encouraging them. He wants those guys to be successful.

This group, from day one, has embraced one another. They always pull for each other and they've always competed against each other. It's been a great year. I think that's why they have been so successful. They do push each other in practice. Every day is a competition and that only makes us better as a group.

How was the tempo in practice today? Obviously everybody knows what's going on with everything that's on the line this weekend. Was it pretty focused?

Settle: It was focused and it was pretty lively. It was good for us to get out. We joke about how cold the weather was but it's probably going to be the temperature on Saturday so it was good to get those guys out there, set the pads and watch them run around. Everything was live.

It was just like we haven't changed anything. It was like the first practice before the first game. We practiced the same way. The offensive linemen were cutting guys downfield and guys were hitting in the secondary. It's just business as usual.

It's pretty exciting, though. You can't ignore the fact of what's going on here.

Settle: And I think the one thing that this group has done is that they've risen to the challenge of every week and every game. There is none bigger than this one. This is the biggest game of the week because of everything that surrounds it.

With the maturity of these guys, the focus at the task at hand speaks volumes as to what the seniors have done as leaders and really to what the young guys have done following them, watching them and just taking everything in.

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