Running Contingent

With P.J. Hill being the starting running back on Saturday, the Badgers will have two capable runners - Zach Brown and Lance Smith - ready to back him up.

MADISON – The reasons behind the struggling running game of the University of Wisconsin's offense, according to sophomore P.J. Hill, is simple.

"The guys are just having trouble putting a body on a body," Hill said. "Defenses know that we are a running team and teams are going to scheme to stop our run. We need to work extra hard to get to our man and continue to try and be success."

With the players the Badgers are going to have in the backfield on Saturday, success looks to be given for Wisconsin against a Northern Illinois team that gives up over 170 running yards a game.

After a season that earned him national accolades, Hill continues to improve and be the key ingredient to Wisconsin's offense. The sophomore leads UW in rushing with 825 yards in seven games (a 117.9 yard average). In the last two games, however, Hill has registered only 158 combined yards on 40 carries, mainly because UW had been forced to throw the ball after being down by 11 and 17 points at halftime, respectively.

"As a running backs coach, you want to see your guys have success and that comes with team success," Wisconsin running back coach John Settle said. "We haven't played well and that takes away carries. We have to look at the big picture. Of course we want to run for 200 yards, but we have to do what it takes to win."

The lack of yards, thankfully, hasn't been due to Hill breaking down like he did a season ago. Last season, a nagging neck injury and other problems during the second half of the season saw the Wisconsin running game stall. In Wisconsin's final five games, Hill broke the 100-yard barrier only once and attributes his success this year to more muscle and less weight.

"I don't get as tired as much and it's because of the weight I've lost and continue to work out," Hill said. "I'm still a little banged up, but it's not taking the toll on me like it did last year. I am still coming out of games feeling better. I'm just being smart about the contact, which I think has helped."

Backing up Hill the past two weekends has been true freshman Zach Brown, who has stepped in for suspended running back Lance Smith after Smith was suspended by the university for all five of UW's road games for his alleged actions during a summer fight with his girlfriend.

Although Brown hasn't been registering many carries this season (15 for 60 yards with a long of 12), the freshman has been impressing his fellow runners and running back coach with his ability to pick up the pass blocking scheme, block downfield and knowing what is happening around him, showing a high level of maturity and confidence for a player early in his career.

"Zach's a young guy that has come in and shown a lot of intelligence football wise," Settle said. "He's been able to compete and show no fear. We had a lot of confidence in him that he can come in and play. He's never shied away from it.

"A lot of freshmen who were the main running back in high school come in and want to run the ball right away," he added. "Zach is very unselfish that way. He's not complaining about not getting carries. Just the fact that he's on the field with an opportunity to compete, he's happy with that and his role."

Joining tailbacks Hill and Brown these next two weekends will be Smith, who has had the last two weeks to rest his legs. In just four games, Smith has averaged 7.9 yards per carry ranking second on the team with 228 yards. While Hill pounds the ball, Smith has been able to provide UW with a change of pace to complement No.39.

"We're not going to miss a beat when we put him in," said Hill, referring to his fellow sophomore running back. "I tell coach to just keep him in because I know he can do something when the ball is in his hands. He'll bust long runs down the sideline using nothing but speed. He helps this team take it the distance."

"It puts defenses on its heels and Lance has shown his speed this season," added Settle, referring to Smith's 28-yard sprint down the sideline. "You have P.J. pounding the ball and then you have a guy that comes in and can hit the hole and go. It makes defenses really have to be careful how they play the schemes."

During Monday's news conference, Bielema stated that P.J. is the guy for short-yardage and first-and-10 situations, but Brown has performed well in preparation the last two weeks and this week's practices will determine who will be the number two back Saturday.

No matter what the outcome, Wisconsin's backfield looks strong now and in the future. Including redshirt John Clay, arguably the best back in the state of Wisconsin in 2006, the Badgers will have two juniors (Hill and Smith) and one sophomore (Brown) all with game experience. Needless to say, there is going to be no short of quality running backs coming through Wisconsin's program.

"We've been around each other and know what each other is about," Hill said. "The bond that we have will help this team out because we are all young and help each other develop. It's going to be fun."


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