Ready to Return

After sitting out the Purdue game, freshman James White is ready to return for Indiana. Question is, will junior John Clay or sophomore Montee Ball be the one starting in front of him?

MADISON – When James White stepped into his first fall camp, Running Back Coach John Settle saw ‘it.'

Settle had been hesitant in the past to use his freshman running backs right away. John Clay redshirted his first season and Montee Ball eased into the rotation, not playing until the fifth game of the year, but Settle saw something special in this true freshman.

"Every time he touched the ball in camp, something good happened," Settle said of White. "Every practice, he had two or three explosive runs and made people miss in the open field."

That's why Settle is so anxious to see White return to action when No.6 Wisconsin takes on Indiana this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Through nine games, White is second on the Badgers (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) with 917 all-purpose yards, second in rushing yards (570) and rushing touchdowns (nine).

Actually, those numbers include just over seven games. White suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee Oct. 23 at Iowa and wasn't ready enough to play last week at Purdue. White originally thought he was going to miss more time when his knee severely stiffened up on the ride back to Madison, but said he was close to going back in when Clay got injured in the second half against Purdue, even going so far as to start doing warm-ups along the sideline.

"I've never had a serious injury, let alone ever miss a football game," White said. "It was tough being out there and knowing you can't help the team, but we know we have running backs that are capable of doing the job."

White, who said his knee is approaching 100 percent, has spent the past two weeks doing band workouts to regain flexibility and lifts with ankle weights to strength. It's evidently worked, as White appears to be even a step faster this week.

"He has the ability to learn from his mistakes right away and not repeat the mistakes like a lot of guys do their first year," Settle said. "He never hit the freshman wall during camp. I know it shocked me, and it shocked everybody else on the staff. I think the best thing for him was to get dinged up, and allow us to give him some time off because he's never missed a day.

"He had a couple runs today and he was just a blur."

The question now remains for Settle is who is going to be the starting running back against the Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5) and their third-to-last conference rush defense (166.1 yards per game). After suffering a slightly sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the third quarter against Purdue, Clay worked out in pads on the sidelines Tuesday and felt better than expected.

Even though Clay still hopes to start against Indiana, the Badgers aren't going to push it and the junior running back needs to show by Friday if he is able to compete.

"I would like to see him move a little bit Thursday and we have a more intense practice than most people on Fridays," Settle said. "He'll have to show that he is pain free and is able to function through all the cutting drills. He'll have to play like he did before the injury or I won't play him."

If Clay can't go, Ball, who rushed 21 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns after taking over as the primary tailback after Clay got hurt, would get his first start.

"It couldn't happen to a better guy," Settle said of Ball. "He performed well in camp, got passed up, understood it because it was clear cut when you put it on film who was playing the best of the group and knew there were things he had to get right.

"We just play the guys who are available. We have to put the best 11 on the field and guys that can use their talents and abilities to help us win. It doesn't matter who we are playing, it's about who gives us the best chance to be successful."

One thing is for sure; whoever has carried the ball has been successful for the Badgers. Between Ball, Clay and White, the trio has combined for 328 carries and the only fumble has been when white tried to stretch the ball over the goal line against San Jose State in Week 2.

Not bad for a group that has rushed for 1,845 yards and 28 touchdowns.

"There is no slack off between the first and the next person," White said. "It's great to have a great running back corps that anybody is capable."

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