Utah Utes football: Formula for success is running back John White + 100 rushing yards = Win
Utes are a perfect 10-0 when senior running back reaches 100 yards
SALT LAKE CITY — It's hard to ignore the numbers. The Utah Utes are now 10-0 over the past two seasons when running back John White tops 100 yards rushing. He had 105 on 22 carries in last week's 49-27 victory over California.
"We need that to continue. Obviously the 100-yard mark for him has been a positive for us as far as translating into wins and that was the case again Saturday," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "Hopefully down the stretch — these next four games — he'll be able to give the lift to the team that he was able to do last year."
White, who reached the milestone in all eight of Utah's victories in 2011, joked that "it's science." The streak has extended into this season. Besides reaching the century mark against Cal, White netted 119 yards in the opener against Northern Colorado.
The senior downplays his success, especially as a victory gauge when he runs for 100 yards.
"I don't know. It's just a statistic. So I really can't speak on it," he said. "I think it's just everybody doing their job. Everybody doing their 1/11th, everybody just being on the same page and doing work as a team. That's all it is."
Individual success isn't what motivates White.
"It's just all team goals," he said. "It's all about getting these seniors to a bowl game. That's all that matters."
White, a team captain, insists he's not worried about rushing for 1,000 yards or anything like that. It's all about going bowling.
"That's the main deal," White said as the Utes (3-5, 1-4) prepare for Saturday's home game against Washington State.
With the season winding down, there's a real sense of urgency up on the hill.
Although the Utes won't discuss injuries, White has been hampered by a foot injury. Even so, White insists he's "good" and there's evidence to support it. Whittingham said White had his best game of the year against Cal and that he played exceptionally well.
The encore, however, may include a bigger workload. Backup Kelvin York, who had 51 yards on 11 carries last week, reportedly suffered a high ankle sprain and could be sidelined for a while.
"If Kelvin's not there then John may have to pack the ball 30 times in a game or two. We'll see what happens," Whittingham said. "But we know he's capable of it. We know his track record. It's not something that he can't handle because he's handled it in the past."
White carried the ball 316 times last season while breaking Utah's single-season rushing record with 1,519 yards. Becoming entrusted with a big load again, White noted, is something he feels real good about.
"I would welcome that," White said. "It's like the same scenario as last year. I can't cry about that."
Although White once again leads the Utes in rushing, his 518 yards and 131 carries are well off of last year's pace. The Pac-12's leading returning rusher missed the BYU game because of his injured foot. Adding to the challenges was Utah's disappointing 2-5 start to the season.
"It was frustrating in the beginning but we've got to rally up," White said while maintaining his focus on the task at hand. "It's just all about winning now and getting on the right track. I feel like we're going to do that."
Utah's run game against Cal was praised by Whittingham. The offense was streamlined a bit, allowing the Utes to hone in on a few concepts.
"The offense seemed to play with a rhythm, more so than we have at any point this season," Whittingham said before noting that White and York ran effectively and that true freshman quarterback Travis Wilson took another step forward in his third start.
Whittingham confirmed that plays calls in the red zone were adjusted for the Cal game after Utah scored just seven points a week earlier at Oregon State.
"We decided to be maybe be a little more direct and down hill with the run game and give it to the backs and let them hammer it in there rather than try to get to the perimeter or throw the ball," Whittingham said while noting that with a few exceptions, the Utes took more of a smashmouth, "stop us" mentality.
It led to four rushing touchdowns — two by White and one each from York and Wilson.
EXTRA POINTS: The NCAA confirmed that Reggie Dunn is the first player in history to have two 100-yard kickoff returns in the same game and is just the second player to have three 100-yard returns in his career. ... Washington State has returned 500 allotted tickets for Saturday. They can be purchased though www.utahutes.com, the stadium box office or by calling (801)581-UTIX. ... It's Utah's annual "Salute America" game with all five branches of the military being honored.
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