A Chip off the Old Block

Being challenged by their head coach this week to be the impact players on offense, Wisconsin running backs John Clay and James White, with a big assist from their offensive linemates, opening up the gaps to rack up a combined 179 rushing yards, wearing down the Buckeyes to post a 31-18 victory.

MADISON – When asked earlier this week if he and true freshman James White had come up with a nickname for their running back tandem, junior running back John Clay just laughed, shrugged his shoulders and said nothing had stuck yet.

How about this one: program changer?

In what will easily go down as one of the program's greatest moments, Clay rushed for 104 yards and scored two first-half touchdowns while White added 75 yards and the game-clinching score in the fourth quarter, propelling No.18 Wisconsin and 80,000 screaming, celebratory fans on to the Camp Randall turf after knocking off No.1 Ohio State, 31-18, Saturday.

After the hiccup in East Lansing two weeks ago,the win moves Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) back into the thick of the conference title race.

"We knew what we could do when we got the ball going," a smiling Clay said after escaping the humanity. "In our house, we knew we could win this game. The outside world had second thoughts, but we knew it could happen.

"This showed the world we can play with anyone when we take care of our business."

After close calls contributed to the Badgers losing three-straight games to the Buckeyes, Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema did something out of the norm. He challenged his offensive line and his running backs to make a difference on Saturday. The first change was cosmetic.

During his weekly barber shop visit for his Mohawk trim, Clay had the numbers of all five starting offensive linemen etched into his doo, a tribute to the guys up front blocking for him. They didn't let him down.

"The offensive line was doing a great job," Clay said. "They work for me out there in the front, in the trenches, moving people for me so we can run the ball."

Part of the reason Ohio State (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) had ascended to number one in the country was because of the Buckeyes' stout run defense. In six games, the Buckeyes had limited opponents to an average of 78.7 yards rushing and a total of three scores.

Wisconsin showed how weak opponents can skew the statistics. If David Gilreath's 97-yard kickoff return to start the game stunned the Buckeyes, Clay's first-quarter runs were a sucker punch. With his offensive line (a group also wearing a chip from last season's Columbus setback) opening up running lanes as wide as State Street, Clay carried nine times for 71 yards in the opening quarter.

Putting that number in perspective, Clay had a total of 59 yards in last year's game and the Ohio State defense hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in the previous 29 games. Both of those numbers became a memory.

"Establishing our run game was the key to victory today," senior guard John Moffitt said. "Being able to move the ball the right way and not be put in any bad third down situations, I think we were successful with that all game."

Added OSU senior captain Brian Rolle: ""The run game, they just overwhelmed us with it. They just ran the ball, ran the ball, ran the ball. They didn't trick us or run reverses or try to do too much. They just ran the ball and that's something we've got to be able to stop."

Not only did the running game provide the jump start, it also provided the finish. After Ohio State scored on its first two second-half possessions to cut a 21-3 lead to 21-18, White provided the change of speed that finally shook off the visitors.

"We knew we had to have a long drive," White said. "We knew we had to score."

Running the same play around the left end multiple times on the 10-play, 73-yard drive to get a read on the defense, White took the handoff, cut inside to make cornerback Devon Torrence slip to the ground and cut back outside to break an arm tackle by strong safety Orhian Johnson, not stopping until he crossed the goal line to extend the lead to 28-18 with 6 minutes, 57 seconds left, the finally nail in the coffin.

"I just knew that if the coach was going to put me in, I was going to go out there with a full head of steam and do what I've been doing week in and week out," White said. "I thought if I set them up going outside and just put my foot down, they wouldn't be able to get back on balance to tackle me. Once I made that one cut, they both tripped up a little bit and I ran through the seam."

Over the last 11 games dating to last season, the Buckeyes have outgained the opposition on the ground by 1,737 yards (2,592 to 855) – an average of 157.9 yards per game. Saturday night, the Badgers outgained the Ohio State running backs 179 to 99.

"They're a great tempo change (with) the big power guy then the quickness with White," OSU Coach Jim Tressel said. "We were saying the whole week as we were preparing. It's a great one-two punch. They've always got a good one-two punch. You just kind of change the jersey numbers and the names, they're always got a good one-two punch at Wisconsin."

Long before the field had been cleared and the party officially started throughout the capital city, the message was simple in the Wisconsin locker room: enjoy the victory but don't let it go to waste by losing to No.15 Iowa in Iowa City next Saturday in front of a similar national audience.

"We'll enjoy it tonight and go to work tomorrow," Moffitt said. "That's what we need to do."


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