A few weeks ago, even saying the words bowl and eligible didn’t seem a likely combination to a lot of Utah fans.
The Utes slowly moved up the standings, however, in the past few weeks, and so too has their star running back, junior John White.
Now, not only is bowl eligibility in sight, White is continuing his march up the all-time single-season Utah rushing yardage leader board with a 167-yard, three-touchdown assault on UCLA, which also resulted in a 31-6 win in front of 46,000 frigid fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“The coaches told me not to worry about conditions. At first it was a problem, but I got my feet together and made cuts,” said White.
Surely, coming to Utah and playing in snow and ice was something new for the Bruins, who are used to 70-degree weather and sunshine as far as they can see a bikini line.
But like the Utes who are new to the Pac-12, so too were mighty UCLA to this white stuff on the ground, and acted as if they’d never seen it before, slipping all over the place and literally playing as if their cleats were stuck in some kind of magic mud.
They also acted like they had never seen anything like White, either. The junior running back from nearby Torrance blasted, danced and bulled through the Bruins defensive line, and when they forced him outside, he juked them too and sprinted for the pylons.
Part of White’s success running the football this evening may have had to do with the Ute defense that held the Bruins to just under 300 total yards and benefited from one pick six, made by Conroy Black just when UCLA was showing signs of life late in the game.
“It feels great to be bowl eligible. We’re finally playing like the team we thought we would be. Now, we just want to finish the season how we want to,” said Black.
The offense was also gifted with great field position all evening long, making up for the lack of passing–a contant theme this season–from Jon Hays, Jordan Wynn’s emergency replacement at quarterback.
White went in and gobbled up yardage on a field caked in white, as if God himself had anointed this kid from the Los Angeles area to stick it to his hometown school and gallop all the way to the red end zone.
You had to think White was loving every waking moment of this game, giving himself and his teammates an opportunity to go bowling–something the last eight Ute teams have done.
Thirty plus carries later, this diminutive yet crafty running back showed why he is now Utah’s fourth leading rusher in a single season–with two more games to play.
Utah Single-Season Rushing Yardage Leaders, year in parentheses
1507, Carl Monroe (1982)
1396, Dameon Hunter (2001)
1204, Darrell Mack (2007)
1191, John White IV (2011)
1173, Mike Anderson (1998)
1127, Del Rodgers (1981)
1120, Quinton Ganther (2005)
1076, Keith Williams (1991)
1069, Eddie Wide (2009)
1046, Eddie Johnson (1986)
Carl Monroe’s record is now in sight, those 1,500-plus yards racked up when he was all Chuck Stobart’s lowly Utah team had at the time.
What makes White’s accomplishments so remarkable is that the Utes aren’t exactly playing against teams from the Western Athletic Conference, as Monroe did back in 1982.
Nope, White is doing it against Pac-12 teams, most of which are stuffing the box and forcing him to beat them.
That plan to stop White is working for the most part in the first quarter of games, but the guy’s like the Energizer bunny–he just keeps going, and going until teams can’t take it any more.
Pretty soon the holes open like clockwork going into the second half and White is on his way…to touchdown heaven.
Utah fans can only hope this sort of productivity continues into next year, when Wynn will be back and the Utes will presumably have an even better roster of players ready to battle in Pac-12, Part Deux: The Reawakening.
After all, these Ute fans need something to cheer about, and this kid is the tonic to what ails Utah. They only watched their team undergo blowout losses to Washington and Arizona State in succession, but only after seeing their star quarterback go down with a shoulder injury to what was his one good throwing arm.
What choice did the Utes then have, but to go to White and let him carry them to victory?
It all seemed hopeless at the time, and the team itself seemed lost, stuck in this time warp it couldn’t seem to get itself out of.
Perhaps it even felt like the 80’s all over again, as the Utes scratched and clawed with an athletic back, but never could get over that proverbial hump of winning actual games.
A reemergence of this running game hasn’t exactly been always pretty; it certainly hasn’t been anything that any Utah fan in years has been a witness to, and it really isn’t indicative of Utah football over the past few years.
Standing on the sideline today, Matt Asiata must have wished he had another year of eligibility, but he’ll have to leave that to his brother Shawn, who has emerged as White’s blocking fullback and the person responsible for giving the Ute back more daylight–though White is perfectly capable of finding it on his own.
But you know what? It’s working, whatever this vile combination of a pro-style offense is…that has people running for the toilet at some moments, then breathing a collective sigh of relief after White–a junior college transfer in his first year–has yet again run for a first down, and maybe more.
Before, all everyone talked about was the New Mexico Bowl. But with all of this recent success, and a four-game winning streak the Utes can begin planning for a trip to El Paso and a date with a team from the ACC in the Sun Bowl.
And the Utes can thank White–with an assist from Asiata and an offensive line led by John Cullen–for most of Utah’s success.
“It was weird because I bumped into [John Cullen] and he just grabbed me into the end zone. If he wasn’t in the way, I’m pretty sure I would have scored easily,” said White.
You would have to believe he is right.