Clay uncertain for Hoosiers game with injured knee
The University of Wisconsin’s considerable football depth finally may be challenged.
Coach Bret Bielema said running back John Clay is questionable for Saturday’s home game against Indiana with a sprained right knee, even though tests came back negative after a 34-13 win over Purdue.
The sixth-ranked Badgers (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) already were missing freshman running back James White and relied on third-string standout Montee Ball to help awaken them from a first-half stumble against the Boilermakers.
Wisconsin trailed 10-6 at halftime, and Clay was hurt early in the second half. Ball finished with 127 yards and two second-half touchdowns. Bielema said Clay wanted to return.
“He was actually trying to get back in the ball game there late, but (we) just didn’t feel where he was at that we needed to do that,” Bielema said Monday.
White was out after hurting his left knee against Iowa two weeks earlier, also giving Ball the opporunity to shine—which he did. Bielema said White should be back before the game against the Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5), but Clay’s status was uncertain.
“We’ll see exactly where he’s at as the week moves through,” Bielema said. “He did have a slight MCL sprain. The MRIs came back and didn’t even look as bad as possibly James’ from a week ago, so there is a chance for him this week.”
While Wisconsin keeps moving up in the polls, the Badgers aren’t faring as well with the computer rankings.
Wisconsin piled up wins over UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State and FCS-member Austin Peay.
That group of schools has gone a combined 8-28 this season. and it’s a big reason none of the computer polls has Wisconsin higher than eighth, while none of the human polls put the Badgers lower than sixth.
If Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all finished with identical 11-1 marks, the automatic qualifier from the conference would be the team ranked highest in the BCS standings because the Spartans and Buckeyes didn’t play each other, according to Big Ten officials. Wisconsin is currently seventh in those rankings, ahead of Ohio State (ninth) and Michigan State (11th).
Bielema said he believes the human element emphasizes the fact that the Badgers have back-to-back wins against then-No. 1 Ohio State and No. 13 Iowa.
Only Wisconsin and No. 2 Auburn have two wins over teams currently ranked 15th or higher in the BCS poll.
“I realize other teams have had good, signature wins, but for Auburn to do what that did to (Arkansas) and LSU, and for us to beat No. 1 and come back on one week and beat Iowa there ... I think they really respect (us), which is why we’ve probably stayed where we are,” Bielema said.
Bielema said while the scenarios are something to talk about and write about, his team isn’t thinking about the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 2000—or past the Hoosiers.
“None of that matters,” Bielema said. “Our kids know the way they played the first half last week, if they repeat that in the second half, we wouldn’t even be having these discussions.”
Wisconsin’s depth on offense is a big reason why the Badgers remain on track.
Clay has run for 929 yards and 13 touchdowns this season after winning last year’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award, while the emergence of White has taken some of the carries away from the bruising back. Ball has been effective, too, in his recent work.
Wisconsin also may have its first significant shuffle on the offensive line if center Peter Konz is unavailable. Konz aggravated a right ankle injury against Purdue, and Bielema said backup right guard Bill Nagy will take his place.