INDIANAPOLIS – Behind an offensive line that has hit its stride over the second half of the season, senior tailback Corey Clement pounded his way for tough yards and sprinted for a 67-yard touchdown in the first quarter to put Wisconsin up 14-0.
It was the yard he didn’t get, however, that had him frustrated.
Rushing for 164 yards on 21 carries, Clement couldn’t move the sticks on a fourth-and-1 from the Penn State 24, the final offensive play for the Badgers in a 38-31 upset at the hands of No.8 Penn State.
“It's just all about who wanted it more,” Clement said. “And it's one yard. Either got it or didn't. But I'm pretty sure that everybody on the field laid it out on the line for that last play.”
Clement was one of Wisconsin’s impact players throughout the opening half. On Wisconsin’s opening drive, a 14-play, 81-yard march that chewed up eight minutes on the clock, Clement carried the ball eight times for 26 yards, grinding out a few yards at a time.
On UW’s next drive, Clement broke a run outside the left tackle and – with the help of a downfield block by receiver Quintez Cephus – into the end zone to make the score 14-0.
After two drives, Clement had 98 yards rushing.
“It starts up front,” Clement said. “Those guys did a heck of a job making adjustments every time they got a chance to snap the ball. So my hat's off to the o-line for doing their prep earlier in the week which allows my patience to connect with those guys.
“It's all about being relaxed and patient with this o-line, because they work in such a fantastic way that you have to allow them to set up the blocks the way they needed to.”
Even when things started going south for the offense in the third quarter, Clement still delivered production, carrying the ball five times for 33 yards. Redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw carried seven carries for 44 yards in the quarter to keep the senior fresh.
But UW couldn’t commit to the ground game in the fourth quarter after Penn State took its first lead in the opening minutes. On Clement’s final carry, the senior looked to hit a gap between the right guard and right tackle, but left guard Jon Dietzen appeared to get caught up in the traffic as a pull blocker and fullback Austin Ramesh couldn’t hold his block on Grant Haley, who delivered the stop for no gain.
Clement rushed for at least 100 rushing yards for the seventh time in the last eight games and boosted his career rushing total to 3,021, putting him 12th on the school’s career individual rushing yardage list
“He’s a big-time player in a big-time game,” center Michael Deiter said. “You expect that out of a guy like that. He put the offense on his back when he had to, and he did a great job of that. He gave us a chance to win the game. Just fell short of it. Proud of him the way he played.”
Missed Opportunity in Second Half
Even though Penn State started to turn the momentum into its favor with a late first-half touchdown, Wisconsin’s offense – which churned out 230 yards and 21 points in the first half – was getting the ball to start the second half and could make an emphatic statement with an early touchdown.
They couldn’t deliver.
Although Wisconsin first three plays went for eight, 14 and 19, the offense could manage only four yards on the next three run plays and couldn’t convert on points when senior kicker Andrew Endicott missed a 48-yard kick wide right.
“Super frustrating,” Deiter said. “You have a pretty solid drive, you’re moving the ball, you get down there and hoping to get three out of it. We just had to do a better job of finishing … When we cross the 50, your mindset has got to change. You’ve got to get hungrier. You got to make sure you come away with points or it’ll come back to bite you, like it did.”
After converting its two red-zone opportunities in the first half into touchdowns, Wisconsin ventured into Penn State’s red zone only once in the second half. UW had to settle for a 23-yard field goal when pressure from defensive end Garrett Sickels forced quarterback Bart Houston to miss a wide-open Troy Fumagalli just short of the goal line.
“We were hitting in the first quarter and the start of the second quarter, and we just never really got back to it,” Deiter said. “And the defense never got back into a groove either. We have to figure out why and fix those things.”
Extra Points: Both listed as questionable entering the game, Conor Sheehy (right arm) and quarterback Alex Hornibrook (head) did not play … Junior defensive end Alec James was not listed on the injury report but did not play, further depleting the defensive line … Ryan Connelly’s 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown was only the third defensive TD cored in a Big Ten title game (Ohio State’s Joey Bosa in 2014, Wisconsin’s Marcus Cromartie in 2012)