MADISON — James White has become the most complete running back that Gary Andersen has ever coached. It was White’s performance in the Wisconsin Badgers’ 27-17 win over BYU that seemed to confirm that in Andersen’s mind.
White rushed for 147 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns. He also added a career-high six receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. But none of those touches were the first thing that Andersen thought of when asked about White after the game.
“Everybody sees him on the ball, everybody sees him scoring those big touchdowns, and trust me, those are tremendous plays,” Andersen said. “But there was one play in the game that was a corner blitz; a corner was free off the edge. There’s no way (quarterback) Joel (Stave) gets that ball off.”
Unless White came to the rescue, which he did. Most impressive for the senior running back on that play was that he said it “probably technically wasn’t my responsibility in the protection.” But in he stepped anyway and turned a would-be sack into a completed pass.
White has been splitting carries all season with redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon. Over the first half of the season, Gordon was the better rusher by a significant margin. But over the past two games, White has taken control of the Badgers’ backfield.
A week earlier at Iowa, White had 70 more rushing yards than Gordon on only two more attempts. White also had both touchdown runs in that game. Against BYU on Saturday afternoon, White again had both rushing touchdowns while gaining 53 more yards on the ground than Gordon.
“James is playing very, very well; at a high level.” Andersen said.
Even with all of his recent success, White still hasn’t climbed ahead of Gordon for the team rushing lead. Gordon’s 1,191 rushing yards this season ranks ahead of White’s 951 yards. And while it’s Gordon who’s frequently mentioned as the better NFL prospect of the two, White could be emerging as the dependable running back that many general managers could be searching for.
White’s immediate goal is to conclude his collegiate career by helping Wisconsin win every game that remains on its schedule. However, he’s not hiding the fact that he wants to do enough right now so that an NFL team calls his name in next year’s draft.
“I only have a little bit of time left here and I’m just going to try to go out here and do whatever I can for my team,” White said. “Hopefully I get an opportunity to play at the next level.
“I’m just trying to be as versatile as possible out there, be sharp on pass protection, be a valuable option in the receiving game and don’t miss any cuts as a running back. I’m just trying to play as complete as possible.”
McEvoy’s evolution at safety: It’s going to take more than just one season for redshirt sophomore Tanner McEvoy to make the unusual transition from quarterback to safety a success. But all of McEvoy’s work paid off in the box score Saturday when he recorded the first interception of his career.
“It’s just to get a little more comfortable, I think, every week with him,” Andersen said. “That was a big play. I hope he would have got the pick because it was like it was lobbed up in a softball game, so hit it out of the park. He got that one. He made that play.”
At 6-foot-6 and 223 pounds, McEvoy is an interesting developmental project for the Badgers as a safety. Initially switched in fall camp from quarterback to wide receiver, McEvoy broke a bone in his left wrist that then shifted him to the defensive side of the ball.
“I think he’s getting more confident in breaking his angles and reading the quarterback’s eyes, and he’s getting more confident in his tackling ability,” Andersen said. “He’s improving, and he has enough games underneath his belt now where there’s really no excuse for him not to play well.”
But will McEvoy ever reclaim his role as a quarterback in Andersen’s offense?
“I haven’t even thought about that,” Andersen said. “He’s a safety next week, and we’ll move on from there.”