By TOM LEA
MADISON – Wisconsin’s running backs coach Thomas Hammock said he was impressed with the way junior tailback James White handled his reps in UW’s 37-26 win over UTEP Saturday afternoon.
He thought White ran between the tackles at an efficient rate and proved he has more depth to his game than relying on open space to create big plays during his 15-carry, 65-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Miners.
“I’ve been impressed with him since we started fall camp,” Hammock said. “He’s really taken a more physical approach to the game. He’s being more physical. He got those tough yards inside.
“He grinded it out and made the plays we needed him to make and the ones we’re going to need him to continue to make.”
White’s 15 carries against UTEP matched the amount of carries he received in UW’s previous three games, a move that signifies his improvement as a runner both on the edge and in between the tackles. And one that indicates he’ll continue making his mark on the Badgers offense.
A season ago, just one year after he led the team and earned Big Ten freshman of the year status, White struggled to rack up his 713 rushing yards. His averaged dropped by more than 1.5 yards per carry and he scored less than half of the touchdowns he did as a freshman.
“When he was a freshman he had wider type plays,” Hammock said. “Last year was an adjustment, getting the ball more inside. This year he’s getting behind his pads more. He’s trying to press to the line before he makes a cut.
“Those things are helping him see the holes better.”
Through four games it’s apparent White is closer to his freshman self than he is to his sophomore self. He’s accrued 134 yards on 30 carries and has scored two touchdowns. He’s also logged four receptions for 43 yards, including some key first downs that helped the Badgers move the chains.
“It’s just been a while since we’ve seen him in that role,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I thought he was exceptional (against UTEP). Melvin Gordon had a couple of those runs and he had the big 100-yard day and everyone wanted to draw attention to that. He did phenomenal, but I couldn’t be more proud of those two guys.
“The preparation they put in and the patience they showed. When Montee went down they were excited about the opportunity. Nobody was more excited for those two guys than Montee himself.”
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