It’s safe to assume that the vast majority of the college football universe believes Ohio State will be handed the Big Ten crown at the end of Saturday’s game against Wisconsin. Not only did they beat the Badgers 38-7 earlier this season during a torrential downpour, but the Buckeyes have gotten used to leaving Lucas Oil Stadium with a big shiny trophy in tow. Ohio State has won it three times in the last five years, two of which were against Wisconsin—the infamous 59-0 win in 2014 and 27-21 in 2017.
And while even the Badgers’ fanbase’s feelings toward the game are, well, half-and-half:
How are #Badgers fans feeling about Saturday’s game against OSU?— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 2, 2019
Philadelphia Eagles running back Corey Clement believes in his former team, especially with head coach Paul Chryst at the wheel.
“What I loved most about Wisconsin’s football program? The coaching staff, Coach Chryst,” Clement said. “I was actually excited when he became the head coach. I knew the type of coach he was. I knew what he wanted out of his guys. He knows his stuff.”
Clement was a sophomore in 2014 and was second on the depth chart behind junior running back Melvin Gordon. During the 59-0 shutout, Ohio State’s defense held Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries and Clement to 14 yards on 5 carries.
Eleven days later, Chryst was named Wisconsin’s head coach and according to Clement, improved the program’s culture almost immediately.
“Right off the bat I knew we now had a family environment, and I knew that was gonna take us far,” Clement said. “When it came down to the games, we were out there with our family and we were playing for each other.
Clement’s break-out year was 2016, when he ran for 1,375 yards on 314 attempts and 15 touchdowns, earning him first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten by the media. It was also Chryst’s first big year as Wisconsin’s head coach, leading his No. 6 ranked team back to Indy to take on No. 7 Penn State.
“We lost,” Clement laughed. “But, I don’t care. It was still special because we got in, got a chance to do it with the guys we came in with, especially Coach Chryst.”
Clement signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in May of 2017, meanwhile Chryst & Co. found themselves back in Lucas Oil, ranked No. 4, playoff hopes alive and well...as long as they beat No. 8 Ohio State. Alas, they fell 27-21 to the Buckeyes.
Fast-forward to December 2019, and the Badgers are now the one’s ranked No. 8, preparing to take on the No. 1 team in the country. If you’re Chryst, you’re sick and tired of leaving Indianapolis without some hardware. So, you’d expect this week to be...pretty intense for the Badgers at practice and in the locker room, right? Wrong. According to Clement, Chryst is likely treating this game like it’s the first game of the season.
“Practice week this week is definitely the same as any other,” he said. “Coach will probably take it easy on the last day, because he knows his guys are ready. He doesn’t want to over-coach them or overdo it. Because the Badgers...we tend to do that. So, Coach Chryst is like ‘you guys put in all the work, now go have fun.’”
Oh, so the Meyer-Saban approach... got it!
In all seriousness, any head coach who creates a “family culture” or a brotherhood within his football program is going to have success. Not to mention, it’s the Big Ten. They’re playing indoors on neutral territory and—according to any Wisconsin fan you ask— “it’s hard to beat the same team twice.” Anything can happen. Especially, Clement said, if Wisconsin relies on their star running back, Jonathan Taylor.
“When it comes down to it, I think J.T. is gonna be the guy to lift that team up,” he said. “Wisconsin has a history of winning games by running the football. So, I know Coach Chryst is gonna want to make the best plays possible, and that’s through my man, J.T.”
Taylor ran for 1,761 yards on 279 attempts and 20 touchdowns this season. He is No. 1 in the Big Ten in all three categories, was named the conference’s Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year, and has remained a steady candidate in the Heisman race. All that to say, Ohio State held Taylor to a season-low 52 yards rushing in their last meeting. If Wisconsin wants to make this a ball game, Clement’s right— Taylor will have to perform up to his usual standard.
Clement believes in his successor, but also wants him to know that, with his talent, this game is just a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
“I always try to keep J.T. humble and make him realize that the end result isn’t the Big Ten Championship,” Clement said. “You’ve got to keep elevating. You’ve gotta use this as a platform, do it for your teammates, your family, your state. Show ‘em why you came up to Wisconsin.”
If Taylor shows up this time around and—dare I say it— Wisconsin wins the game, Clement said they have to put the Badgers in the playoffs.
“Look at who Ohio State has played,” he said. “That’s a high-caliber team. You can’t take a win against them lightly one bit. I know it’s gonna be hard for us, but with a little bit of optimism....”
Speaking of optimism, Clement’s score prediction?