Forgetting the Fumbles

Fumbling the ball three times against Wofford one week before the conference opener, sophomore running back John Clay hasn't lost his confidence in his ability to make plays with his legs, something he is ready to prove in the conference opener.

MADISON - Call it over aggressiveness, lack of focus at times or simply a bad day at the office. Whatever the reason, sophomore running back John Clay isn't exactly sure what caused his three fumbles in Saturday's 44-14 win over Wofford.

The only thing for certain is that Clay doesn't plan on making the same mistakes twice, especially with the Badgers facing Michigan State, their toughest defensive line test of the season, this weekend.

"Everybody is due for one bad day," Clay said. "I just can't let it happen anymore. I got mine out of the way, so there's no excuse for me to have any more like that."

A bad day doesn't begin to describe Clay's problems last Saturday. After missing the correct read on his first two running plays, Clay's indecisiveness on whether to hurdle or plow through a defender caused linebacker SeQuan Stanley to knock the ball out of his hands.

Later in the first quarter, Clay had the ball secured in his hands but still had it jarred out after safety Coleman Hornaday lowered his shoulder and hit the ball out on the UW 3, a play that sent Clay to the bench for the rest of the first half.

"I was trying to hurry up and get back out there to make up for the fumbles that I had," Clay said. "I wanted to prove that this isn't a problem and forcing it when I should have stepped back, relaxed and collected my thoughts instead of making a play right away."

Clay said one of the problems was trying too hard to make that big play, like the 72-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter the previous week against Fresno State, to make the first two fumbles a distant memory.

Given another chance in the third quarter, Clay's eagerness caused him a third fumble on his second touch of the half, getting the ball poked out of his hands and made three bounces on the turf before Clay picked it up and ran out of bounds. From there, Clay stayed on the sideline for the remainder of the game.

"I wasn't staying focused," Clay said. "I was too busy to hurry up, make the big play and overcome the fumbles. Just not staying focus really made me fumble."

The focus became clear the next day, especially since Head Coach Bret Bielema wanted to but couldn't run ball security drills immediately following the game due to a potential NCAA violation. Getting the ball banged, swatted and punched at, Clay proudly stated that he didn't drop the ball during drills.

"It's something that you need to address and then move on from it, and he's been focused this whole week," running back coach John Settle said. "It's an opportunity for it to be a great learning experience for him if he learns from it. We're going to need a good John Clay, that guy that has confidence and run behind his pads."

Fumbling had been a rarity for Clay entering Saturday's game. Clay fumbled four times, losing three, in 155 carries last season. He had no fumbles in his first two games (36 carries) this season. Combined with his career-high 143-yard game against Fresno State, Clay earned his first career start, but now finds himself in a back-up role heading into the game against the Spartans to junior Zach Brown.

Brown also fumbled against Wofford, on his second carry of the game, but came back to the sideline and promptly told the coaches it would be his last. Brown responded by rushing 10 times for 52 yards and two touchdowns, not letting the ball hit the ground again. Because of that, Brown will get the start this week.

"It's a lot easier with maturity for Zach to say that wasn't going to happen and go out and back it up," Settle said. "I think it's easier for the guys that have been in the heat of the battle to adjust. John is a year younger, we are bringing him a long and for whatever reason when the focus isn't there, things can get away from you. Right now, we're focused on not letting that happen again."

For Clay, it doesn't matter when he comes in or when he gets his carries. The only thing the sophomore wants to do is show patience in the backfield and put Wisconsin on the right track in the conference race.

"I got to prove it to myself and my teammates that they still can count on me," Clay said. "I want them to count on me when the game is one the line … (Saturday is) our coming out party. It's the Big Ten opener and we're going to show everybody in this conference what we are made of and what we can do."

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