SALT LAKE CITY — John White IV is carrying quite a load for the University of Utah football team. In last week's 27-8 win over Oregon State, the junior ran the ball 35 times, netting 205 yards on the ground — becoming the first Ute since Marty Johnson in 2002 to reach the 200-yard mark in a game.
It also moved White closer to another milestone. He's just 85 yards away from becoming just the 11th player in program history to run for 1,000-yards in a season.
White could reach the mark Saturday in Tucson against Arizona. He's averaging 114.4 yards per game and will face a rushing defense that ranks 10th in the Pac-12. The Wildcats are giving up 174 yards per outing.
"He's one of those guys that you give him a little bit and he'll make a lot out of it. That's something that's great for an offensive lineman to have," said right tackle Tony Bergstrom. "He's closing in on that 1,000-yard mark, which is a big thing for us. We take a lot of pride in it. But obviously he's done a lot on his own, too, so we really appreciate John White."
The feeling is mutual. After the Oregon State game, White deflected attention away from himself and noted that everybody played hard.
"We just stuck to what we normally do," said the 5-foot-8, 186-pound White. "That's just establishing the run and that's what we did."
White, however, was the driving force behind Utah's success. He accounted for all but 20 of the Utes' yards on the ground. Highlights included a 60-yard gain and a 6-yard touchdown run.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called it a "big performance" and "huge."
White is making quite an impact. The Utes are 4-0 this season when he runs for more than 100 yards, eclipsing the mark against Montana State (150), BYU (174), Pittsburgh (171) and Oregon State.
"He's still early in his career, he's only been here eight games, but so far he's off to a great start," Whittingham said when asked if White ranks among the best running backs in Utah history. "He's closing in on that (1,000-yard) milestone. I think time will tell if he's going to be in the same category. We've had some pretty good running backs come through here."
With four Pac-12 games and a possible bowl game left to play, White has already posted the 17th-best rushing season in Ute history. He's currently on pace to finish the regular season with 1,491 yards — just shy of Carl Monroe's school record of 1,507 in 1982. A bowl game, obviously, could make the difference in that regard.
As White moves up the chart, he's moving into single-season statistical territory inhabited by former Utah standouts like Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (982), Mike Anderson (977), Brandon Warfield (976, 919) and Jamal Anderson (958). White just moved past Tony Lindsay (909).
"All I can say is he's off to a great start. He's got the right mentality. He's got the tools and I don't see any reason why he won't be in that conversation when all is said and done," Whittingham said. "But right now he's just working hard and trying to find ways to help us win."
If White is able to reach the 1,000-yard milestone, he'll join 10 others who eclipsed the mark for Utah. The most recent player to do it was Eddie Wide, who ran for 1,069 yards in 2009. Others include Monroe, Dameon Hunter, Darrell Mack, Mike Anderson, Del Rodgers, Quinton Ganther, Keith Williams, Eddie Lewis and Eddie Johnson, who did it twice.
White's success hasn't taken Utah's coaching staff by surprise. At Los Angeles Harbor College, he set numerous school records — finishing his career with 2,527 rushing yards, 41 touchdowns (34 rushing), 248 points and 3,767 all-purpose yards.
"We knew we had a talented guy," Whittingham said while noting White's impressive junior college career.
White, though, didn't make much of a splash in his first spring at Utah. Whittingham said he was getting a feel for major college football. In fall camp, however, White gained confidence and became assignment sound. That's when things really took off and he pulled away from the pack. White entered camp as a tri-leader, along with Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo, for the starting job at running back.
"We hoped that there would be some separation and it was pretty apparent about two weeks into camp, that second week of camp, that John was starting to separate himself," Whittingham said. "And that trend continued and he just widened the gap as time went on."
White is currently the third-leading rusher in the Pac-12 and ranks 15th in the nation. He had 36 carries at Pitt and is the only player in the country to have two games with 35 or more rushes this season.
Utes on the air
Utah (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) at Arizona (2-6, 1-5)
Saturday, 4 p.m. MT
At Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: 700 AM
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company