MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin football team saw two of its talented running backs topple the 100-yard mark against an opponent for the first time since 2005. That year, Brian Calhoun and Booker Stanley accomplished the feat against Bowling Green in the season opener. Even though the last second loss to the Spartans was devastating, the production at tailback remains encouraging.
The following is a question and answer with UW running backs coach John Settle.
For the first time in a while, the Badgers had two guys rush for more than 100 yards, what can that be attributed to?
Settle: A great week of preparation by not only the two backs but the offensive line as well. The guys went into the game focused, understanding what it was that we wanted to do and get accomplished as an offense. I think when you go into a stadium and the people put so much, taught so much about one guy, one offense, one offensive line supposedly. Michigan State, you know, they've done well. Our guys stepped up to the challenge and they felt challenged. Hey, when the game's over, let them be talking about the other side. All that is great, but we still came one point shy. But, we're still not going to lose sight that we were able to accomplish some things and that we just got to build on.
Do you think getting the win against Illinois the week before kind of re-energized the players?
Settle: I think this is a group that's approached things the same way week in and week out. I don't think that wins and losses are going to affect them negatively or positively. I think the thing that these guys look forward to is playing football. As coaches we look forward to preparing week in and week out and they look forward to going out and executing week in and week out. I don't think it's any more than that. Just that they're competitors and they like to go out and play.
Just watching John Clay, he seems very explosive to the hole, the lane. Can you teach that or is it just something certain players have?
Settle: That's something that they have. The only thing that we do here is we try to teach them pre-snap run keys, there's a certain person that they look at. We try to get the eyes locked in and understand what schematically that it is that we're trying to do. Then we can just let their talents, their abilities take over. He's a talented young man and he's going to continue to get better.
How have you seen him progress this season? Earlier in the year he had some bad moments whether it was not reading his keys or going the wrong way. How has he surpassed that and grown?
Settle: He's beginning to pay attention to detail. Until you film his footwork and that type of thing, and then you bring him in and show it to him, it's hard for guys to grasp it and understand it. But just the importance of six inches, if you're foot, if you don't step lateral and you step back, then your shoulders don't get square and all that type of thing. Then you're not able to press and read your keys and get your steps the three cuts that we like to have. That's the one thing that he's done. We've done some things in practice to help him. He's asked for me to do some things to make sure that he's stepping correctly. When you get a young man like that that wants to learn, that's willing to learn, that wants to do things right, then they're going to be okay.
Is that after practice he comes to you or during it?
Settle: It's during practice. If we see something on Sunday, then we'll get out to the field on Tuesday and he'll say, 'Hey coach, don't forget to do this and do this for me and do that.' And, we'll do it. Hey, that's why I'm here, to coach you and get you to be the best that you can be and I'm glad that he's hungry and he has a desire to be great.
With some of these younger guys, is that kind of commonplace, those little growing pains?
Settle: I don't look at it as growing pains, it's just being exposed to something new. Things happen a lot quicker here and then couple that with the class, with everything that's involved. Classwork, all the appointments you have off the field, the weight lifting, the weight training, everything that encompasses being a student athlete. Then you get out on the field and it just takes some guys a while to be able to sort everything out and sort through the pains and have things slow down in their minds so they can go out and perform. I'll tell you right now, he's playing about as good as I'd expect him to.
With both P.J. and him getting over 100 yards, was that kind of what you guys envisioned going into the season?
Settle: Well we really did not have a vision. We knew that we had two, what we felt like, were two big-time guys that physically pound defenses and wear people down. If we can convert and keep the offense on the field then we were going to have an opportunity to be successful in the fourth quarter and that's what happened. We were able to make some first downs and have a couple of drives, the time of possession thing was in our favor. So the guys were out there on the field a while and when you keep throwing those two guys at people, you're going to wear people down. That's what we were able to do.
I remember talking to you during fall camp and you said that you loved the competition of the running backs. Have you been able to see some of those strides play out over the past couple of months to now?
Settle: Oh yeah. That's what's gotten us to this point, the fact that they pushed each other so much during the first couple weeks of camp, throughout the first part of the season. They know that at any given time they could be forced into competition so they've done all they can do to push the other guys and learn. P.J. has done a heck of a job of bringing John along and still coaches him in practice and makes sure he sees the right things. So I think when you have a group of guys like that, the group is going to be successful. Because of the group success, individual success will come.
One of the guys who hasn't been getting a lot of carries is Zach Brown
Settle: But he's steady. The one thing I would continue to say about Zach is he's steady. He's a guy that we put him in there in tough situations, usually third down, and we give him the ball in certain situations. I've told him, hey, this is your role, understand your role, play your role. Whether it's fair or not, you're our third down guy and when you go on the field, everything is a heightened sense of awareness because if you don't convert then we're punting. So he understands that and he's mature enough to handle it and he's done well this year with the opportunities he's had.
With the talent he has, is it kind of an advantage over some other teams to have a guy like that as your third down back?
Settle: Definitely because we know he can play all three downs if we needed him to and he continues to prepare. He's always getting ready that if something happens to the other two, then he's able to get us out of a ball game. I appreciate the way he approaches, he's professional in the way he approaches a game. When you get a guy that's kind of overshadowed by the other two, it would be easy for him to take the opposite approach and cause a lot of problems in the locker room, but he hasn't been that. He hasn't said anything and he just continues to prepare and when his opportunity comes, he's ready.
Was there ever any concern with him about that?
Settle: Well you never know. I'm still learning, you think you know people, but something like that confronts them, when they're confronted with a situation like that it's easy to say one thing, but you watch how they react. The one thing that was evident early on was that he's a guy that's very competitive. He loves to play the game and when we made the decision that they would be our first two guys and he was going to be our third down guy, he accepted it. Whatever it takes to help the team. We had him look back and so I can say as a coach of a guy that sees him every day and works with him, he's accepted his role and whether he was role with the decisions early or not, it hasn't shown.
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