The California Golden Bears and the Utah Utes both have diminutive running backs. The more productive tailback is likely to lead their team to victory on Saturday.
Utah RB John White IV has been one of the most productive running backs in the nation this season, putting up 111 rushing yards per game to help keep the slumbering Utah pass offense from sinking the team completely. Dirk Facer of the Salt Lake City Deseret News has more.
He's great. I mean it's unbelievable how durable he is," said Utah quarterback Jon Hays. "He's not very big but he's a tough guy and he runs hard. It's great to have a back like him."
Utah doesn't want to overwork him though.
"If we give the ball to John White 36 times a game, I don't think it's going to be a long season for him. That's too many times for any back to carry the ball on a week-to-week basis," Whittingham noted.
"Now he's as tough as nails and he wants the ball. He would love to have the ball that many times, but the reality is that's probably too big of a workload for him."
However, White has compiled most of those stats against non-conference opponents. In fact, White's performance has drastically dropped off when you go from OOC to in-conference.
White against OOC FBS opponents: 172.5 rushing yards per game, 5.94 rushing yards per carry
White against Pac-12 opponents: 58.67 rushing yards per game, 3.45 rushing yards per carry
To be fair, those Pac-12 run defenses were some of the best in the conference. Unfortunately for the Utes, the Cal run defense is one of the best in the conference too. With starting injured linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Dave Wilkerson looking like they're on the track to play, they should be at optimal strength in the front seven for this one.
Isi Sofele has also had inconsistency problems, but in general he's performed better as the season has gone along. Sofele is actually performing better in bigger games, averaging 6.37 yards per carry in the three losses to Washington, Oregon and USC. You get the feeling he's due for a big second half of the regular season if the passing game sticks together.
But just like White, he can't be expected to carry the load. Michael C. Lewis of the Salt Lake Tribune has more.
"He’s improved each week," coach Jeff Tedford said. "With the more carries he gets and the more playing time he gets, he becomes more natural. He’s hitting holes better, he’s seeing things better. He’s a gifted guy, he’s a very tough guy, he’s a very quick guy. I think each week he is improving."
Sofele is originally from Utah, so he'd love to have a breakout performance this Saturday.
Sofele would love to do a great job against the Utes, too.
Not only will his parents and many other friends and relatives attend the game, but he said he has always dreamed of playing against his hometown team. He did play for the Golden Bears when they lost to the Utes in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl, but only on special teams.
To discuss Cal football more, head to the California Golden Blogs. To discuss Utah football, check out Block U.