Ball knows White will bounce back

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, November 10, 2011
— Montee Ball understands the predicament fellow Wisconsin tailback James White is battling.

Hesitancy, uncertainty and perhaps a bit of frustration.

“It is all about confidence, and he is going through exactly what I went through last year,” Ball said. “So I’m making sure I am standing by his side …

“We all know what he is capable of doing. We all know he will bounce back, so no one is really worried about it.”

White, a sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., enters Wisconsin’s Big Ten game Saturday at Minnesota with solid numbers through nine games: 102 carries for 524 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.

Those numbers are behind his pace of last season, however, when he was named Big Ten freshman of the year.

Through nine games in 2010, White had 86 carries for 570 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns.

White acknowledged he hasn’t been as consistent or as productive as last season.

“I don’t believe so,” he said. “But I’m just going to go out and keep working hard at practice and hopefully things keep getting better each week. I’m just trying to help the team however I can.”

White approached the staff before the Purdue game last week and volunteered for duty on the punt-return team. He made his season debut not as a returner but on the front line as UW went for the block.

Purdue punter Cody Webster defeated the strategy by rolling away from UW’s strong side and executing a ruby-style kick.

“I just felt like I would try to make the difference any way I can,” White said. “I volunteered to see what I could do.”

Running backs coach Thomas Hammock and head coach Bret Bielema insist White’s weekly preparation

isn’t an issue.

“I think those guys still compete every week,” Hammock said of White and Ball. “Having James there tells Montee he needs to still do the same things you’ve been doing week to week to stay successful.

“(James) is going to be ready when his number is called.”

Like Ball early last season, White has been slower to the hole and has missed some reads.

“Some games I may just have one or two (good) opportunities and I don’t capitalize,” he said. “When I get those opportunities, I have to cash in on them because I don’t know when I’m going to get them. …

“It is stressing me out a little bit, but I try not to think too much about it because that is only going to make it worse.”

On the same day Ball continued his marvelous season (1,076 yards, 6.6-yard average, 24 total touchdowns) by rushing for 223 yards and three touchdowns against Purdue, White added 50 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts.

Lost in UW’s 62-17 victory was the fact White had two key plays to set up a field goal on the final play of the first half, and he reached the end zone for the first time since the Indiana game with runs of 5 yards and 1 yard.

“What we wanted to do is get James some opportunities to get in the end zone, get that feeling back,” Bielema said. “Not try to script anything, but ... I think because Thomas played the position he really does have a feel (for) the way those guys think, and the way they’re wired and how to bring them back.”

The plays on the field-goal drive were receptions of 12 and 9 yards. White made sure to get out of bounds on both plays to stop the clock. He had to elude two defenders on the first pass play to reach the sideline.

“He knew the situation,” Hammock said. “He was trying to get out of bounds and get all he could get. He had to make guys miss to get back to the sideline, and we wound up getting three points out of it.

“I think those are the types of things that go unnoticed at times, but they are very valuable to our team.”

Minnesota, tied for 10th in the Big Ten in rushing defense (191.1 ypg) no doubt will look to slow Ball, who is averaging 119.6 rushing yards per game.

When the teams met in 2010, White rushed 19 times for 118 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-23 UW victory. Don’t be surprised to see White break out this week.

“Anybody that has played this game knows there’s going to be ups and downs,” said Hammock, a tailback at Northern Illinois in 2000 and ‘01 before a heart condition forced him to stop playing.

“That is part of the deal. Just like last year with Montee. He was third and look where he has come.

“You just never know when the opportunity is going to turn it around and it is going to click. That is why you’ve got to keep working to make sure you’re prepared for that opportunity.”

Last updated: 6:57 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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