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Utah football: John White ready to lead the Utes into bowl game

Published December 24, 2011 10:18 pm

Utah football • Running back expected to be 100% after ankle injury.
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Everyone from teammates to classmates to fans have all had the same question for running back John White ever since he hurt his ankle in the Utes' loss to Colorado.

Will he and can he be ready for the Sun Bowl?

If you pause for a second, you can almost hear all of Ute Nation fretting to hear the answer or see White run for themselves as affirmation the guy is all right, as he has maintained he will be.

Interest in White's ankle is expected. After all, White went from being an unknown junior college transfer to becoming the guy most responsible for Utah's success in 2011.

The year has been a wild one for all involved, from quarterback Jordan Wynn — whose shoulder injury sidelined not only him for the year but also Utah's plans of a passing attack — to coordinator Norm Chow, who had to change the offense to White, who was given the responsibility of carrying Utah's offense in its first venture into a BCS league.

Suffice it to say, White handled the responsibility and pressure that goes with the role just fine.

Heck, the guy just wanted playing time. Now White needs just 103 yards in the bowl game against Georgia Tech to tie the school record of 1,507 yards set by Carl Monroe in 1982.

That he is so close to such an achievement makes White's head spin about as much as he makes defenders twirl when they are trying to catch him.

White's impact seemed unfathomable back in August when White, Harvey Langi and Tauni Vakapuna were battling for the starting role.

"Coming in, I was third string and didn't think I'd even get an opportunity," White said. "Then I got a big opportunity, and I went with it."

White set several school records at L.A. Harbor College, including for rushing yards (2,527) and rushing touchdowns (34) but still, the junior college level isn't exactly the same as the Pac-12 so no one really knew what to expect of White even after he earned the starting role.

Even Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was unsure how White could handle the physicality of the Pac-12, noting there is still some guesswork in the recruiting and evaluation process.

"It's tough, it's one of those intangibles that you have to rely on as a coach and just watch practice and get somewhat of a feel for what a player can do," Whittingham said. "But you never truly know until a guy is in your program."

It wasn't until White rushed 36 times for 171 yards and left the field at Pitt as fresh and as strong as he was when he went onto it that White had convinced everyone he could handle whatever the Utes demanded of him.

"It was apparent he was a tough individual," Whittingham said.

With that game the Utes unleashed White, who perhaps deserves more credit for the Utes' strong finish than anyone else, as Utah is 7-0 when he rushes for 100 yards or more.

Could the Utes be too dependent on White? What happens if he isn't up to speed against Georgia Tech?

Whittingham isn't entertaining such thoughts, believing White will be as good as ever thanks to the long break between the season finale and the bowl game.

"Unless there is a setback, he should be full speed," Whittingham said. "We're expecting him to be 100 percent."

If he isn't, the Utes must and will adapt, Whittingham said.

The problem is, they've shown little ability to do so given the injuries to key offensive players such as Wynn and tight end Dallin Rogers.

The Utes managed just 274 yards against Colorado with White sidelined, a glaring statistic that reminded all just how ineffective the Utes are without White.

"Usually it is a quarterback-driven business," offensive coordinator Norm Chow said. "This year, we've had to take the heat off the quarterback and put it on John and the offensive line. We've had to rely on him a great deal."

Despite the Utes' dependency on White, the junior said he doesn't feel any pressure to deliver a bowl win.

Luckily for the Utes, Georgia Tech isn't exactly a beast against the run. The Yellow Jackets give up 162.9 yards a game on the ground, ranking 70th nationally.

"There is no pressure at all," he said. "I've been doing what I've been doing all season, so it is what it is. I'll be fine."

Already, White is thinking about next year, especially now that he knows what to expect and what is expected of him.

"I want to work on being more patient," he said. "Sometimes I get frustrated in the first half when it's not there for me, but I've learned you have to stick with it because things open up in the second half so I have to be patient." —

John White by game

Opponent Rush Yds TD

Mont. St. 19 150 1

USC 20 56 1

BYU 22 174 3

Wash. 14 35 0

ASU 17 85 1

Pitt 36 171 0

California 15 39 1

Oregon St. 35 205 1

Arizona 27 109 2

UCLA 33 167 2

Wash. St. 42 185 2

Colorado 10 28 0 —

Sun Bowl

P Utah vs. Ga. Tech

Saturday, Dec. 31, noon. TV • Ch. 2






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