TAMPA, Fla. – Nobody has enjoyed the bright Florida sunshine more than sophomore Lance Smith.
Frankly, Smith is simply happy practicing with his teammates anywhere outside of the Wisconsin border.
In a July on-campus incident where a fight with his girlfriend led to his arrest, Smith was sanctioned with a university-imposed suspension in which he was forced to miss all five of UW’s road games, including a trip home to Ohio.
“After everything that had happened, I met with Coach B and I thought everything was over,” Smith said. “I got a letter from the Dean of Students and I thought they were going to punish me, but I didn’t think it would be five games. It hurt, but I realized that when you do something, there’s a consequence that follows.”
The worse part for Smith was watching Wisconsin’s running game struggle from his couch at home. In seven games with Smith in the lineup, Wisconsin averaged 237 yards on the ground. Without him, the Badgers could muster just 157 rushing yards, breaking 220 yards only once (Minnesota).
“Watching those games was tough on me but I knew that I needed to be ready to perform at a high level at home,” Smith said. “I needed to bring that spark back to the running game.”
With Smith in the backfield, Wisconsin running game incorporated a brand new element. While P.J. Hill is best known as a bruiser, able to grind out yardage with the best of them, Smith has utilized his breakaway speed to average a remarkable 6.2 yards per carry.
“That’s the best thing going (for the running game) right now because when he’s in the game, he mixes up the game so well,” fullback Chris Pressley said. “He’s an explosive player and he adds so much to the running back depth that it’s really good to have him back there.”
“He’s a speedy guy, but he’s also pretty powerful,” he added. “He’s a good all-around back and probably the best we have here.”
With the explosiveness that Smith has brought to the table, road game-planning for UW Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst has been somewhat of a challenge, as the Badgers have had to rely more on the passing game to generate a spark when UW has faced a deficit.
Combining the use of Smith with freshman Zach Brown and a healthy P.J. Hill, Chryst has all his running weapons at his disposal.
“It’s a whole new thought using everybody,” Chryst said with a chuckle. “It’s nice to see his back and to have all your running backs at full strength. The games that Lance has played in, he impacted.”
With the amount of frustration and anxiousness that Smith built up while his teammates were on the road, it’s no wonder that Smith performed the way he did. Finishing the year as the team’s third-leading rusher, Smith has put his troubles in his past and used this year as a learning experience, creating high expectations for his last two seasons.
“Every time I went on the field, I was so hungry because I knew that I might not be playing the next week,” Smith said. “I only have two years left and I know that I have to perform at a high level every time I step on the field to get to where I want to be.”
“I am happy it’s over and that I can look forward to great things at this university.”