But through two games this season, the power running game has struggled by Wisconsin football standards. Last week against Northern Illinois, the Badgers put up just 152 yards, when in past non-conference games they are used to rolling up 200 – sometimes 300 – yards on the ground.
Against a Fresno State defense that returns nine starters, the run game started to find some traction in the final minutes, finishing with 188 yards on the ground – led by John Clay's career high 143 yards. However, most of those yards came on Clay's 72-yards touchdown run in the fourth quarter that gave the Badger's their first lead of the game.
Even though the final number was high, Clay knows that there are many things that need to be worked on for the running back tradition of excellence to be restored.
"It was frustrating because they loaded the box on us because they knew we like to run the ball," Clay said. "They would load the box and bring everyone in the gap so it would be hard to find the gap and be able to run."
Because the Bulldog's defense was so focused on Clay, Zach Brown and the running game, quarterback Scott Tolzien was free to do his own business. Tolzien finished the day 17-for-28 for 225 yards and a touchdown, which forced the defense to not only focus on the running game.
"It shows that we're becoming a complete team," Clay said. "We've got the pass game, we've got the running game. It's a win-win situation with us."
The Badgers as a team rushed for just 51 yards in the first half, when Tolzien passed for 144 yards in the air. It was a different story in the second half, as Tolzien passed for just 81 yards, but the running game and Clay in particular found their groove – amassing for 136 yards as a team in the second half and both overtimes.
Herbert Makes his Mark
He has already been lauded by the majority of the Wisconsin Badgers roster, praising him for brining in new work-out techniques, up-beat conditioning drills and a renewed sense of confidence in mind, strength and physicality.
Now, you can add ‘motivational speaker' to strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert's list of accolades.
With the Badgers as a whole being sluggish in the opening half, Herbert delivered a poignant halftime speech, reminding the Badgers of how all the hard work, time and energy that had put into the off season was done to succeed in moments like this.
"He did put things into perspective," Tolzien said. "All the time we put in here. All the competitions we do in the weight room, it was great to have him mention that for us just to see how far we've come as a team."
According to senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield, Herbert brought up the tug-of-war towel competitions the team had in the off-season, something that Schofield said motivated his teammates to not let the Bulldogs steal the Badgers' towel.
"He told us this is what we worked for," Schofield said. "All this time, eight months, all the battles, everything. To be down to our lowest point to where we feel we can't go anymore, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to respond?
"The certain thing he really brought up was the last Friday we had where we all had towels. Whoever tapped out, the other person you were battling against took your towel. He asked us if we were going to let them (Fresno State) take our towel. That was the big thing to get us going in the locker room and we came out ready to play."
Bielema admitted after the game that about 40 players were out Tuesday with flu-like symptoms. With so many guys suffering, it was easier to find out who never had the flu and that list included running back John Clay and Schofield.
Because their game preparations were interrupted by the flu, the Badgers practiced Friday when they usually only have walk-throughs.
Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi said they had to pretend Wednesday was Tuesday, Thursday was Wednesday and Friday was Thursday. Luckily, they only treated Saturday like Friday during the first half.
Tolzien gives himself a "B/C"
Last week Tolzien gave himself a "B" grade in his solid debut as Wisconsin's starting quarterback. This week he actually gave himself a worse grade, saying it was a "B/C" performance. The junior finished with 225 yards and one touchdown while completing 17-of-28 passes.
Once again Tolzien showed confidence and poise in situations when his offensive line failed to pick up a blitz. He was only sacked twice when in reality, he could have been sacked as many as five or six times.
Travis Frederick left the game in the first half with a right ankle sprain and Peter Konz filled in nicely as the backup center. Bielema said Jake Current would have been the third string center. He said he expects John Moffitt to be ready next week but did not guarantee his return... Fullback Bradie Ewing suffered a concussion during the game but "was smiling at the end of the game," according to Bielema. He did not expect it to be a serious injury... Finally, Issac Anderson played through cramps as a result of the flu. He finished with four catches for 44 yards.
Publisher Benjamin Worgull and Adam Hoge from Bucky5thquarter.com contributed to this report