MADISON – After Corey Clement galloped into the end zone for the first time all season early in the first quarter, fullback Derek Watt was the second person to run up to him as he celebrated in front of the Wisconsin student section.
The congratulations came first but Watt needed to chew out his teammate for drawing a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for being a little too exuberant with his celebration.
“I asked him what he was doing,” said Watt, with a smile. “I was happy for him. I know emotions were high.”
Clement's penalty turned out to be his only negative all afternoon, as the junior finished with 115 yards on 11 carries and his first career three touchdown game in Wisconsin’s 48-10 win over Rutgers Saturday at soggy Camp Randall Stadium.
“It felt great to be back out there,” said Clement. “I couldn’t ask for anything else from this game. My linemen did a great job executing. I think this whole process has allowed myself to slow the game down a lot more and become more patient.”
It wasn’t the quite the 131-yard, two-touchdown performance he had against his home state school a year ago in Piscataway, N.J., but Clement is not complaining after the journey he’s been through.
Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) doesn’t mind either. With Clement the healthiest he’s been all season, the Badgers ran for 209 yards and passed for 217 more (their first 200-200 game of the season) and had a season-high eight plays of 20 yards or more.
“Everyone is aware of how good of a player he is on our team the past two seasons,” said senior quarterback Joel Stave, who returned from a head injury to win for the 28th time in his career. “To be able to have him back, to see him making cuts we know he can make, breaking runs we know he can break, it’s fun to see.”
Clement got teased with his return on the first drive, inserted into the game with less than three minutes elapsed, but had to trudge back to the sideline after UW changed personnel after a false start penalty.
He wasn’t going to be denied after that, especially not with the Badgers sitting in the red zone. Following a 2-yard carry, his first since the opening play of the second half in the season opener, Clement followed his blockers for a 12-yard touchdown.
He was so amped that he heaved the ball into the air, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“I literally forgot how to act,” said Clement.
He was a little more reserved after that, simply dropping to a celebratory knee after his 21-yard run gave Wisconsin a 24-3 lead going into the locker room and unleashing a double flex after his 1-yard run put UW up 41-10 in the third.
“It’s a long journey coming back,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “He was happy to be able to contribute to this team. Certainly there is a personal part of it, and that’s coming back. I think any player comes into a season with expectations, kind of a vision of what they want the year to be. (It) certainly wasn’t that way for Corey.
“There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of waiting and just to be able to get out and play, I’m sure there was a lot in that one.”
Clement has been teasing a return to the field for the last two weeks. He went through pregame warmups in the 24-7 win over Purdue Oct.17 but didn’t feel he was physically and mentally ready for game action, just a little over two weeks removed from sports hernia surgery in Germany.
He ramped up his practice work leading up to last weekend's road game at Illinois but it was decided Thursday that he wouldn’t make the trip.
Saying he was around 85 percent, it was evident that he’s still not quite in game shape. Breaking through on the right side of the line late in the third quarter, Clement was never able to turn it up to 100 percent in the open field, resulting in him getting tracked down from behind.
“I was trying to over extend so much because things weren’t feeling too good,” said Clement. “It’s something I haven’t done in a while, probably about five weeks. It’s about getting my legs back and knock out the aches that come with that.”
Even so, his 58-yard run was the longest play from scrimmage this season for Wisconsin (and the longest by a UW tailback by 26 yards) and set up tailback Dare Ogunbowale for a 4-yard score.
Throw in senior Tanner McEvoy’s 20-yard run out of the Wildcat formation in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin rushed for a season-high five touchdowns.
"Corey is one of the better running backs in the country," said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. "He's an excellent football player, so that didn't surprise me that he would be effective when he went in there."
The next step is getting his stride back, the one thing Clement says is keeping him from being 100 percent. Even so, he stills has the burst over the first 15 yards that he came into college with
That’s good news for Wisconsin’s running game and bad news for the final three Big Ten teams on the schedule.
“That can only keep progressing as time goes on,” said Clement. “I believe time is only going to heel this process.”