MADISON, Wis. – Running back John Clay is on top of Wisconsin's depth chart, as expected, but coach Bret Bielema says he'll give backups Montee Ball and James White carries against UNLV on Saturday.
Clay is the workhorse for the 12th-ranked Badgers, who face high expectations with 10 starters back on offense. The burly junior rushed for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and had surgeries on both ankles in the offseason.
Clay had a tough final scrimmage last week with two fumbles. Bielema said how many carries he gets against UNLV will depend on how Clay handles the work and the flow of the game.
"I do know this, all three of those running backs are going to play and they're going to play a lot," Bielema said. "You can see more and more things every day (Clay is) getting to where he wants to be or where we want him to be as well, but until that becomes something we can count on every play of every game Montee Ball's going to get his chance, James White's going to get his chance."
Ball is a sophomore and White is a freshman. Bielema said both remain in the mix to grab a number of the carries.
"Sometimes guys that have been here a while, they get a lot better in a hurry when they see guys that are willing to carry some yards at all positions," Bielema said.
The trio of backs could all be successful if UNLV hasn't figured out how to stop the run.
UNLV has a new coach in Bobby Hauck, who brought his staff with him from Montana, but the Running Rebels ranked 112th allowing 220.6 yards rushing per game last year.
Wisconsin's coaching staff has been looking at film of both Montana and UNLV to prepare. Hauck's teams at Montana were perennial powers in the FCS, with three championship appearances in seven years.
"We do know a lot about Bobby Hauck, Bobby is a tremendous football coach who has won everywhere he's been, especially at Montana, coming in he brought his entire staff with him," Bielema said. "Anytime your opener is against a new staff, there's a lot of uncertainties."
There's less uncertainty with the Badgers, who'll employ the same style that led them to a 10-3 campaign last season that ended with a win in the Champs Sports Bowl over Miami.
"We're not hiding anything," Bielema said. "We'll do what we have to do to be successful."
Bielema will have mostly a healthy team with most of his key players and second stringers back from injuries.
Linebacker Culmer St. Jean (ankle) returned to practice on Sunday and Bielema said he's close to 100 percent. Other players returning to practice include offensive linemen Bill Nagy (concussion) and Kevin Zeitler (ankle), receiver Isaac Anderson (toe) and linebacker Mike Taylor (knee).
Taylor is the one who is the most unlikely to play against the Rebels. Bielema said Taylor did some running on Sunday and he would fly to Las Vegas, but that he would be a gametime decision.
Backup defensive end Pat Muldoon, a redshirt freshman, is on target for his debut after coming off a serious right knee injury and two surgeries last season.
"Without that injury, my guess is he might have been pushing for a starting role," Bielema said. "He's going to play a lot of football for us and his knee gets better every day."
One player who may not contribute this season is senior running back Zach Brown. Bielema said Brown struggled with tendinitis in his knee in camp. While he's practicing now, they've agreed to try to redshirt him if the other three running backs remain healthy.