UW's James White makes difference in pass protection
MADISON—Tailback James White generated almost half of Wisconsin’s 425 yards of offense in the Badgers’ victory over BYU, with 147 rushing yards and 47 receiving yards.
White touched the ball on 38 percent of UW’s offensive plays, 29 out of 77. He scored all three of UW’s touchdowns, two on runs and one on a reception.
Yet on two of the more important plays of Saturday’s game, White’s lone assignment was to block. And blocking has become one of White’s most important assets, though one that too often goes unrecognized.
He carried out his assignment expertly on the first play, which resulted in a key third-down conversion on UW’s touchdown drive late in the first half.
He improvised on the second play by turning into a receiver after he saw he had no BYU defender to block and caught a touchdown pass.
“Everybody sees him on the ball, everybody sees him scoring those big touchdowns,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “Trust me, those are tremendous plays.”
But White’s game is so much more as the two aforementioned plays illustrated, and his contributions have been critical this season for UW (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten), which on Sunday moved up two spots to No. 22 in the BCS standings, four spots to No. 17 in The Associated Press poll and two spots to No. 20 in the USA Today poll.
UW held a 10-3 lead late in the first half and faced third and 4 from the BYU 45.
Quarterback Joel Stave lined up in a shotgun, with White to his left. White was responsible for picking up middle linebacker Uani ‘Unga or boundary linebacker Manoa Pikula if either blitzed.
“I was watching my two responsibilities,” White said. “(Pikula) stepped to the left just a little bit to make me (turn) my head a little.”
When ‘Unga didn’t blitz and Pikula got hung up in traffic near the line of scrimmage, White saw out of the corner of his left eye that cornerback Mike Hague was coming hard over the left side of the UW formation.
White turned and hit Hague, sending the defender past Stave. That gave Stave time to hit Jared Abbrederis for a 10-yard gain to the BYU 35.
“Corner was free off the edge,” Andersen said. “There’s no way Joel gets that ball off. Joel’s back is turned and he’s cocked and ready to throw the ball. It was a big play.”
Five plays later, White made a bigger play.
UW called its final timeout of the half, with 22 seconds left, after a 6-yard pass play from Stave to Kenzel Doe. That left UW facing second and 4 at the BYU 5.
Stave took the snap from the shotgun and looked for a receiver. BYU rushed three and dropped eight into coverage. Stave looked right to tight end Jacob Pedersen, stayed right and looked for tight end Sam Arneson and then looked back to Pedersen.
“In those situations your feet are telling you you’ve been standing back there for a long time, but there is no immediate threat,” Stave said. “So why not keep standing there, keep looking?”
Stave never saw wide receiver Jordan Fredrick open in the left corner of the end zone and calling for the ball.
White stayed in to block for several seconds, but with no one blitzing decided to take off and give Stave another option.
“I wasn’t even supposed to go out on a route,” he said. “I just heard the crowd yelling and it sounded like Joel was scrambling.
“So I was like, ‘I might as well leak out and maybe he’ll throw the ball to me.’”
White ran to about the BYU 2 and pivoted away from ‘Unga, boxing the linebacker out.
“Right when I turned around the ball was coming to me,” White said.
White made the catch and dived across the goal line with 14 seconds left to help UW take a 17-3 halftime lead.
“It just happened to work out,” White said. “I was just trying to be an option for him or move a linebacker out of the way.”
That is the essence of White’s game. He consistently executes assignments that on the surface appear to be mundane but in summary are critical to the success of the team.