MADISON - Even with the recent emergence of John Clay over the last two weeks, UW head coach Bret Bielema isn't ready to name Clay the starter.
And why would he? Especially seeing as Clay's psyche is much better off if he starts the game standing on the sidelines.
After Clay was given his first career start against Wofford, the sophomore running back's three fumbles immediately put on the bench in favor of junior Zach Brown. Over the next two weeks, Clay has rushed for 326 yards and four touchdowns. Statistics show that Clay is better as the game wears on, evidenced by his 26 carries for 159 yards in the second half against Minnesota last week.
Those yards were the most for a Badger running back in a half since P.J. Hill had 189 yards against Northwestern in 2006. In order to keep the pressure off his prized pupil, Bielema plans to start Brown and then sub in Clay a sprinkling of UW's other running backs thereafter.
"John doesn't want to be a starter, so he's a backup, but he's probably our best option at the tailback position right now," Bielema said Thursday. "Zach will start us off, Montee Ball looks as good as he has looked all fall camp. I thought he had a real good week of practice. And then Erik Smith, there are certain plays he is really good at and will be able to sub in there, it's just kind of how things are going."
According to Bielema, things have been slowly getting better for Brown, as the junior has fumbled in three straight games, including a fumble on his second carry of the second half that was returned 88 yards for a Gopher touchdown, making a one-sided affair close again.
The result for Brown is ball security drills, including having to carry a mini football around campus all week to get the feel of the ball again. The Badgers are hoping this security will help Brown in his limited role this week, especially at a venue where he has already had success, rushing 20 times for 63 yards against the Buckeyes in 2007.
"I know he's anxious to get over there," Bielema said.
Bielema also confirmed that Clay was in a protective boot earlier in the week, as the sophomore woke up Sunday morning with soreness in his ankle.
"As you can imagine after a day of work like that, he was a little sore," Bielema said. "He practiced yesterday, he practice today and he is good to go."
Aiming to Return
In just nine returns, the Buckeyes' Lamaar Thomas has shown that he is a legitimate threat on kickoff returns with a return average of 24 yards per kick. Where the Buckeyes are really dangerous is how they line up their formations, allowing them to option to run reverses and fake reverses, things that will further complicate Wisconsin's average kickoff unit.
"They haven't handed it off every time, but there are some indicators that we need to be aware of before the snap," Bielema said. "We need to have solid contain on all sides. Problem is that there isn't much film. They haven't been returning kicks because not many people are scoring on him."
Nagy Anxious to Go
Hailing from Hudson, Ohio, junior guard Bill Nagy is anxious for the opportunity to play in front of family and friends. The only problem is that he needs to be sure he's fully healthy in order for the coaching staff to utilize him.
One of the lone banged up players on Wisconsin's roster, Nagy made his season debut against Wofford after missing all of fall camp, but has been held out of the Badgers last two games.
"He walked into my office on Monday and volunteered to be a tight end or anything," Bielema said. "He wants to be in that starting lineup real bad."
Redshirt freshman Kevin Zeitler will start at right guard and the plan is for Nagy to see reps at the position, depending on how he is feeling Saturday morning.
"I know this, there isn't anybody that wants there more than him," Bielema said. "But, Kevin has done a decent job and he's got the spot."
Where's the Apple?
After Montee Ball made his Wisconsin debut, rushing for five yards on four carries against Minnesota last week, Badger fans began to wonder what happened to Kraig Appleton. Although he's played three games this season, Appleton has yet to catch a pass, let alone have one thrown his way.
But after a couple calls home, including having Coach DelVaughn Alexander talk to his mom, the Badgers know that Appleton is ready to contribute.
"I think after last week's game, I know Del talked to his mom, he's a lot more engaged after the last two ball games," Bielema said. "He's feeling, ‘Hey, I've got this role, I can slide into it.' I would like to see him catch a ball, because he's got a special gift in that department.
"We'll try to get him working in there but as well as Nick and Isaac have been playing, it's been tough. Our best personal grouping is two tight ends on the field with two wide outs and a running back. It's hard to take that off the field."