White leads Utah's rise in Pac-12

His name is John White. His name isn't flashy, even if you add the "IV" to the end of it to distinguish him from his pop, who is known as John White III. But John White is going to get your defense. You know he's coming. You've schemed him up. You've stacked the box. But John White is going to get you.

And there's not really anything you can do about it.

Utah has won five of six and four in a row -- after an 0-4 start in Pac-12 play -- and has a decent chance of winning the Pac-12 South Division. It needs to beat Colorado (likely) on Friday and hope Arizona State loses to California (possible) and UCLA loses to USC (likely).

What has been the key to the turnaround? John White.

"He was a one-man show in the Pittsburgh game," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That was probably when we said, 'Hey, this guy is special. He's going to be our guy'... The blueprint for us to win a football game is to feed him the ball a bunch of times and not turn it over."

Let's quantify that. During those five wins, White averaged 34.6 carries. He's a first-year junior-college transfer. He's hardly more seasoned than a freshman. He's just 5-foot-8, 186 pounds. He's not exactly Earl Campbell. And yet he's carried the ball 280 times this year, 39 more times than anyone else. Oregon running back LaMichael James led the Pac-10 with 294 carries last year. White is almost certain to exceed 300 before a bowl game.

White had 36 carries for 171 yards against Pittsburgh. The Utes passed for 127 yards. He had 205 yards on 35 carries against Oregon State. The Utes passed for 62 yards. He had 42 carries for 186 yards against Washington State. The Utes passed for 172 yards.

Get the point? Since starting QB Jordan Wynn went down, the Utes' offense has taken an extremely conservative approach. The Utes rank last in the Pac-12 and 101st in the nation in passing yards per game with 170.4.

It's been about John White left, John White right, John White up the middle. Repeat. And it's worked. The Utes are 7-0 when White eclipses 100 yards rushing, 0-4 when he doesn't.

Meanwhile, White is re-writing the Utes record book. His 14 rushing TDs already has tied a team record. He's rushed for 1,377 yards -- his 125.2 yards per game ranks eighth in the nation -- and needs 131 yards to set the single-season school rushing mark, breaking Carl Monroe's record of 1,507 set in 1982.

White was a solid prospect out of South Torrance (Calif.) High. He was heavily recruited by Oregon before going to L.A. Harbor College because he didn't qualify academically. A bevy of programs from across the country pursued him after he rushed for 1,491 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry for L.A. Harbor, earning Central West Conference Offensive Player of the Year. But few expected White to immediately become a candidate for first-team All-Pac-12.

And that includes White, who's as understated as his name.

"I am surprised, I'm not going to lie," he said. "I came out of spring kind of iffy."

He's iffy no longer. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said White was the best running back the Bruins faced (33 carries, 167 yards, 2 TDs). While James and Washington's Chris Polk are the conference's best known backs, White has made as big, if not bigger, an impact without the supporting cast those two have.

"He's not a real big guy but he is tough and he's got great quickness," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "What really separated him as a good runner is his great vision."

And toughness. Said Whittingham, "He is one of the mentally toughest and physically toughest players I've ever coached."

That's because he faces defenses geared to stop him -- eight, nine and sometimes 10 guys packed along the line of scrimmage. Sometimes they do. But he almost always gets away at least once. In nine of 12 games this season, he has produced at least one run of 18 or more yards. In five games, he's produced at least one run of 30 or more yards.

Whittingham, a longtime defensive coach and coordinator before taking over the Utes, said it's "demoralizing" for a defense when it knows what's coming but can't stop it.

"If you load the box and people are just knocking you off the ball, it's a feeling of helplessness," he said.

So White's name isn't fancy like God Shammgod or Leonidas Thermopylae or World B. Free. But you're going to know it. Because you're going to hear it over and over again.

Including when the All-Pac-12 team comes out.