Key Rose Bowl Matchup: RB White vs. LB Harris

Top-ranked USC is loaded with six first-team All-Americans and nine All-PAC-10 first-teamers, but it's backup TB LenDale White that has got Texas coach Mack Brown wringing his hands. If SS Michael Huff is assigned, as expected, to Heisman-winner Reggie Bush, then MLB Aaron Harris will be largely responsible for keeping the bruiser from bulldozing into the heart of the Texas defense.

"LenDale White is the story in this game that nobody's talking about," Brown said. "He's got nearly 1,200 yards, he's third-team All-American and he's the backup tailback. Everything else is known, but nobody is giving White enough credit for what he's accomplished."

For the record, White has 1,178 yards on 177 attempts this season. The 6-2, 235-pound junior is No. 8 on USC's career rushing chart with 3,035 yards, just 52 yards behind Bush. Not bad for a guy who hasn't started a game all year.

"Everybody talks about Reggie Bush but nobody talks about LenDale White," Brown said. "He could have been in New York (for the Heisman Trophy ceremonies) along with the other two. The problem we've got is about the time you start running sideways with Reggie, LenDale White hits you right in the mouth. He's making four and five (ypc) and he wears you down. I don't think people talk enough about LenDale White because of the 'wow' Reggie brings to the game."

MLB Aaron Harris will be counted on heavily in the BCS National Championship on January 4 to see to it that White's numbers are less than Heisman-worthy. Most point to Texas' 38-37 win over Michigan in last season's Rose Bowl as Harris' breakout game; now, the senior needs to break out of a late-season slump in which he tallied just two tackles against Colorado (in the Big 12 title game) and three against Kansas. He had five tackles in games against Baylor and Oklahoma State but racked-up double-digit stops against Ohio State, Texas Tech and Missouri. Harris was banged up early against Texas A&M but came back to record nine tackles as well as a forced fumble.

When peppered with questions from the media about his diminishing impact as of late, Harris typically shrugs off the inquiries and vows to improve during the next game. Yet, it's reminiscent of the relatively quiet second-half of 2004 that Horn fans saw from All-American WLB Derrick Johnson, raising speculation if perhaps both 'backers weren't easing up a bit to ensure that a late injury would not jeopardize NFL careers.

Overall, Harris is Texas' third-leading tackler with 116 stops. Leading tackler FS Michael Griffin brings the wood every game while insisting that Harris is Texas' hardest hitter. Griffin offers this advice for slowing White.

"You can't sit there and just try to catch him," Griffin said. "You've got to hit him yourself. That's a big guy. We played against Jorvorskie Lane at A&M, and I'd say the difference between them is that Lane is shorter and bigger. You've got to hit him before he gets going. You don't want to hit LenDale White when he's going full speed."

It's rare that Texas will scheme for backups but 6-3, 270-pound freshman RB Henry Melton has served as White's proxy during practice. White is USC's leading scorer this season on the strength of a team-best 23 TDs, including two scoring receptions. (Bush has 18 TDs in 2005, including three receiving.) White, whose physical, punishing style has drawn comparisons to Eddie George and Jamal Lewis, set the USC career record for overall TDs with two scores in the Trojans' 66-19 shellacking of cross-town rival UCLA on December 3. He is tied with Heisman-winning RB Charles White for the school mark for rushing TDs at 49. The UCLA game marked the fourth time this season that Bush and White both ran for 100 yards in a single game. (White tallied 154 yards on 14 carries in that one.)

Brown heavily recruited both Bush and White in 2002-2003.

"LenDale was really interested in us and SC," Brown recalled. "You can't remember all the recruiting stories, but it came down to the end with both of us (Texas and USC) and he just chose them. We were right about him. It's good to look back and brag on yourself about evaluation. Our evaluation was good; our recruiting techniques were not."

The Horns depart for California on Wednesday.


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