October 7, 2009

Clay running on all cylinders

COLUMBUS - Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel is fully aware of what to expect from Wisconsin running back John Clay.

That's only natural, especially because Tressel had hoped Clay's production would be for the Buckeyes during his days in college. Despite being high on his list during the recruiting process, Ohio State eventually lost out on Clay who chose to stay close to home and go to Wisconsin.

"We have been watching John Clay since he was a junior in high school and tried to recruit him like mad," Tressel said on the Big Ten conference call. "He stayed home, which I understand. You can just see he is coming along. He is got excellent patience. He keeps his shoulders square to the goal line. One guy's not going to bring him down. He's just every bit the big back that we thought he was going to become."

When playing a team like Wisconsin, the Buckeyes are fully aware of the bruising brand of football the Badgers like to play.

Wisconsin has always had a Ron Dayne-type runner in the backfield, and now that P.J. Hill is no longer with the Badgers after exhausting his eligibility, Clay is the next back to step in and create massive problems for the opposition.

Clay was voted as last week's Big Ten Offensive Play of the Week after rushing for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdown off of 32 carries en route to leading the Badgers to a win over Minnesota that increased the team's record to 5-0.

"It's hard to tackle him. We've known John Clay since he was, I don't know, 10th or 11th grade and tried to recruit him and had him on campus and all the rest, he's a good back," Tressel said. "He's tough. He's got good patience. One guy is not going to stop him cold. He's a good one. He's all everyone thought he would be."

Despite not starting all of Wisconsin's games - he splits time in the backfield with Zach Brown - Clay already is in the top five nationally in rushing, averaging over 116 yards per game on the ground.

Curiously enough, Clay has reached that plateau even with a slower game against Northern Illinois, in which he rushed for only 43 yards. Against Wofford, he rushed for only 70.

Needless to say, Clay has some big-game ability.

"Against the run I think it is going to be a great challenge for us," said defensive tackle Todd Denlinger, who will be starting in place of injured Dexter Larimore. "SC came in with a great running attack, but Wisconsin is known for their run offense and they are leading the Big Ten in rushing."

Clay was a four-star running back out of Racine (Wisc.) and Ohio State happened to be in his top five, but instead of trying to utilize him on his team Tressel has to come up with a way to slow him and the Badgers down.

On the Big Ten conference call, Tressel was asked about Clay's recruiting process and he was only concerned about think of ways to stop him when he comes into the Horseshoe Saturday - this time as a member of an opposing team.

"It doesn't matter if you're in the top three (because we) weren't in his top one," Tressel said. "He had a chance to come and see our campus be at a ball game and meet our people and was just a good young man and weighed his decision. He weighed his decision and the factors came down that Wisconsin was the right place for him. Obviously you can't refute that with what he's done, and he's a good one."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at [email protected].

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