MADISON - Corey Clement isn’t one to sugarcoat the magnitude of the situation.
While some teams and players treat every game with the same urgency and attention to detail as any any other throw away opponents on the nonconference schedule, Clement doesn’t deny that the Badgers playing No.3 Alabama is a game that is going to move the needle.
“This is a moment that not only our team has been waiting for but Madison, Wisconsin,” said Clement. “We want to go out there and show pride and represent where we come from and how to bring Wisconsin football to Alabama. We want to show them how we play football.”
The test speaks for itself for No.20 Wisconsin when it takes on the Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday night at 7 p.m. Dating back to 2009, Alabama has won 72 games, the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Winning at least 11 games the last four seasons, the Crimson Tide has been ranked 67 consecutive weeks in the Associated Press Top 10, the longest active streak in the country.
Over that same time frame, Wisconsin has won 60 games and is coming off an 11-win season that ended with a win over Alabama’s archrival Auburn. The Badgers have played a lot of talented teams over that stretch but view of the caliber they will see this weekend.
“This game is a big game,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “It’s probably happening because of what both programs have been done previous years … What it really means we’ve got a great opportunity to play against a heck of a football team that has recent and long tradition.”
Clement has been studying Alabama since the end of spring practices. He recognizes the same thing everyone else does – the Crimson Tide possess a talented front seven with handfuls of former five-star recruits and All-Americans. He also knows it’s his first tremendous opportunity.
With tailback Melvin Gordon having a spectacular season last year, Clement was limited to 147 carries in 14 games (10.5 per game). He scored nine touchdowns but averaged 67.8 yards per game, a lot of which came in mop up work.
Despite finally being the main attraction, Clement is bringing a lot to the table. He’s played in 26 games as an understudy, has seven career 100-yard rushing games and his 1,496 career rushing yards through his first two seasons is more than Gordon, Montee Ball, Terrell Fletcher, Billy Marek and Brent Moss.
Now he’s the star of the Wisconsin’s running back room in an offense that is going to lean heavily on the run, and it’s a role he doesn’t take lightly.
“Coach Chryst has a philosophy of just run first, pass second and I’m going to love that of course,” said Clement. “He loves to tote the pigskin. He’s a Madison guy and knows how to handle the adversity that comes with Alabama’s defense. They have a great front, linebackers are great and the d-backs are very sound … No matter how you put it, it’s going to be a dogfight.”
Seeing his body wear down at the end of last season, including a shoulder injury that limited his production in the closing stretch of the season, Clement bulked up his frame to 219 yards, improved his conditioning and refined his running attributes.
Saying the game will come down to winning the line of scrimmage, hopefully turning first downs into touchdowns, Clement ideally is looking for between 20-to-25 carries.
“This is something I’ve prepared for, especially taking two years to actually get this primary role,” said Clement. “I feel as if I’m ready condition wise and mental, preparing myself on how to prepare for these defensive fronts. They’ve got a lot of All-American d-linemen and potential first-round picks. Just to have a sound game against these guys would be awesome for me.”
Alabama is listed as an early 10-point favorite and some prediction sites say the Crimson Tide have an 80 percent chance to win their opener. For a Wisconsin team that relished the underdog role in the Outback Bowl against a high-powered SEC team, it’s familiar, and somewhat comforting, territory to be in.
“When people say Alabama has an 80 percent chance to win, I believe in that 20 percent strong,” said Clement. “There is some hope that we have to winning this game … You don’t want to let the fan base down of knowing what you can do. We’ve already lived up to the expectation of how to handle Auburn. Although we did have guys leave, just want to keep that focus that the task is able to be done if you can put your mind to it.”