MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin running back Corey Clement didn’t know when, or if, he would play on Saturday.
Bothered by a shoulder injury suffered two weeks ago, Clement didn’t play a single snap from scrimmage during the opening half of a Big Ten Conference duel with Minnesota at Camp Randall Stadium.
At halftime, Clement stood mute and frustrated in the home locker room, trying to make eye contact with Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen.
“Me and coach are kind of alike,” Clement said. “We can read each other without saying something. He could see the demeanor on my face.”
Clement made it clear that he could play by his expression alone. When Andersen finally complied, the whole day changed.
Clement’s first carry was a thunderbolt of momentum, a 28-yard touchdown run that gave UW the lead for good en route to a 34-24 come-from-behind victory against the Gophers.
Clement followed that up with a fourth-quarter jaunt of 31 yards that set up another TD, sending the 14th-ranked Badgers to the Big Ten title game opposite Ohio State on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Clement finished the West Division showdown with 89 yards on seven carries, nicely complementing the record-setting work of junior starter and Heisman Trophy contender Melvin Gordon.
“I just had to do mind over matter,” Clement said of playing with his injury, suffered Nov. 15 during a 59-24 blowout of Nebraska. “I just came out here and did what I had to do when my number was called on. I made the best of it.”
Gordon, meanwhile, finished with 151 yards on 29 carries and become sole owner of the Big Ten single-season rushing record at 2,260. He came into the day tied for the standard with former UW tailback and 1999 Heisman winner Ron Dayne, who set the NCAA career rushing mark.
Gordon accounted for two TDs — a 4-yard reception and a 1-yard run after Clement’s second big dash of the day — to give him 29 for the season. That’s the second-most in Big Ten history, behind ex-Badger Montee Ball’s 39 in 2011.
Gordon played 25 of the 28 plays from scrimmage for UW’s offense in the first half and, outside of a 23-yard run, was mostly bottled up as the Gophers built a 17-3 advantage.
“I needed Corey today,” Gordon said. “He made some plays today that helped this team out. He was hot.”
It was 17-13 when Clement made his first appearance and changed the tenor of the game for good. He lined up behind junior quarterback Joel Stave, took a handoff and zoomed through a gaping hole off right tackle to the end zone.
“Once I got in, I was determined to score,” Clement said. “I was determined to make a statement.”
|29 CAR||7 CAR|
|151 YDS||89 YDS|
|5.2 AVG||12.7 AVG|
|1 TD||1 TD|
The 1-2 punch of Gordon and Clement eventually became too much for Minnesota to withstand as it fell in this rivalry for the 11th consecutive time.
“All the thanks goes to our [offensive] line,” Clement said.
In addition to qualifying for the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers hung onto Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the symbol of a rivalry that dates back to 1890, for another year.
Like many of his teammates, Clement was a picture of unbridled joy during the postgame celebration as the oversized axe was passed from player to player. He ventured into the student section to exchange high-fives and got hugs and handshakes from fans lining the area behind the Wisconsin bench.
During the postgame trophy presentation, Andersen was asked about the work of Clement.
“He should have fresh legs,” he said with a smile. “He hasn’t practiced all week.”
Asked if he was in pain, Clement smiled.
“Nope,” he said. “I’m too amped up.”
Clement related that he and his teammates actually practiced using Paul Bunyan’s Axe to chop down the goal posts during a summer conditioning session. It was carrot placed at the end of a difficult workout by UW strength and conditioning coach Evan Simon.
That memory motivated Clement and his teammates this day.
“We worked for this moment,” he said.