With a simple four-yard run early in the second quarter, Clay reached his milestone, becoming the 13th different Badger in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards. Even better, Clay helped make Wisconsin a winner on Saturday, as his game-high 151 rushing yards helped the Badgers roll up 229 rushing yards in a 45-24 blasting of Michigan.
"I feel very blessed and honored that I am in this elite club," Clay said. "My offensive line did an excellent job protecting and blocking for me and just giving me everything I got."
It's the fifth straight season the Badgers have had a rusher break 1,000 yards for the season and 15th time in the last 17 years, but the mark was a bigger eye opener simply due to Clay's age. Clay is just the sixth sophomore in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards, joining legendary Badgers P.J. Hill, Anthony Davis Ron Dayne, Billy Marek and Alan Ameche.
"John Clay is a good running back, but he's only 10 games into his sophomore year," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "I think bigger and brighter days are ahead of him."
Rushing for only 42 yards on 12 carries (3.5 average) in the first half, Clay exploded right away in the third quarter. With the Badgers clinging to a four-point halftime lead, Clay's first carry of the half went for 21 yards, setting UW up for a Nick Toon touchdown.
After Michigan answered right back with a touchdown of its own and the Badgers were backed up with a first-and-20, Clay sprung through a gap in the right side of the offensive line for a 33-yard sprint, setting UW up for its fourth passing touchdown.
"John Clay was rolling today," senior O'Brien Schofield said. "Whenever that guy gets going, he brings so much momentum to the team because when he runs hard like that, the defense seems to play harder for some reason."
That argument holds water, as UW's defense held Michigan to just seven second-half points, 71 net rushing yards and Wolverines freshman quarterback Tate Forcier throw to only 49 passing yards and an interception after halftime.
With the 1999 Big Ten Champion team in town for a 10-year reunion and Dayne watching, the Badgers, entering the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead, casually killed 12 minutes, 13 seconds of game clock in the final quarter, having Clay be the workhorse.
"Watching how (Dayne) was running up on the highlights motivated me to run hard and run behind my pads and give everything I can," Clay said. "It's just grinding the ball, trying to kill as much clock as we did. We did that, and establishing Wisconsin football is running down hill, hard-nosed football."
Becoming Toon Time
It was never Nick Toon's intent to steal the spotlight away from the Badgers' 18-member senior class that was honored during Saturday's home game. But when any Wisconsin team has a more than good chance to beat Michigan, everybody pitches in, no matter the age.
"Anytime you can beat Michigan, it's a good thing for your program," Toon said. "Anytime a player can have a big game against a team like Michigan, it's a success."
Toon took another step towards being Wisconsin's top offensive threat Saturday, catching five passes for a game-high 98 yards and two scores – his first multi-score game of his career – to led UW's offense.
"I think Nick was excited to get out there and prove that last week wasn't a fluke," Bielema said. "I think he's ready to take a step forward as a man, as a football player and he's as pretty as you can be."
Wisconsin's leading receiver in both catches (42) and yards (633), Toon made an emphasis on this year's Michigan game after struggling against the Wolverines last season. His two touchdown grabs – one to cap a 14-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead and another to begin the second half – both showed that Toon's number deserves to be dialed up in crunch time.
"He's a playmaker," said junior quarterback Scott Tolzien. "The best thing he has going for him is his confidence."
That confidence showed with Tolzien airing out a pass for Toon in the corner of the end zone despite heavy coverage by Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren. Even with Warren being flagged for pass interference, Toon was able to jump over Warren, secure the ball by reaching over the cornerback and celebrate an important touchdown.
"He's talented, he's gifted, he's a great kid and he's a Wisconsin product that, I think, embodies, who we are," Bielema said. "It's good for him to have success because he has worked so hard to get there."
Enjoy the Moment
After Wisconsin blew a 19-point second-half lead last year against Michigan, the UW coaching staff wasn't going to take any chances. With the Badgers up 21-17 at halftime, Bielema, who rarely references last season, brought up the minor point that, ‘you are up against Michigan with two quarters left, what are you going to do with it?'
The Badgers took care of the next two quarters, out scoring Michigan 24-7, and in turn, got rewarded by being able to celebrate the traditional Fifth Quarter with the UW Marching Band.
"My guess is that I have 120 knuckleheads running around out there," Bielema said.
Bielema also kept his post-game comments to the team brief so the seniors could bring their parents, family and friends out on to the field to celebrate.
Extra Points: J.J. Watt's blocked 19-yard field goal attempt was the first since the 2008 Outback Bowl … Wisconsin has won 30 straight games when scoring at least 30 points … In its last eights games, UW has forced 19 turnovers and scored points off of 12 of those turnovers (10 TDs, 2 FGs) … UW is just the sixth team in history to throw four touchdown passes in a game against Michigan.