MADISON, Wis. -- In most college football programs, talk would center on the performance of a running back on track to end his career with the best yards-per-carry average of any player with at least 300 carries in team history. He would be celebrated across the nation as the FBS active career leader among tailbacks for rushing yards and touchdowns.
In other words, he would earn the praises he so richly deserves.
Instead, fans of the University of Wisconsin are clamoring for the guy to take fewer carries.
Such is life for senior James White, whose solid start to the 2013 season has been overshadowed by the astounding production of sophomore Melvin Gordon. White is averaging 99.0 yards rushing per game and 6.6 yards per carry through three games. Gordon, meanwhile, happens to rank fourth in the country in rushing yards per game (159.0) and is torching opponents at a clip rarely seen in college football.
The result has created unrest for those who believe Gordon should overtake White as the starter. All of this, you might think, could cause a rift between the two or fill White with resentment. On the contrary, actually.
"It's a healthy competition," White said. "We come out here, compete during practice. He makes a long run, I want to make a long run. I make a big block, he wants to make a big block. It helps the team out. We laugh at each other, correct each other, tell each other what we see out on the field, and it only helps one another."
This season, White has taken 45 carries and Gordon 37. And while White has excelled, Gordon has proven to be even better. The three players ranked ahead of Gordon nationally in rushing yards per game have 60, 61 and 63 carries, respectively. No player with at least 30 carries is averaging more than 9.4 yards per rush. Gordon is averaging 12.9 yards per rush.
"He's hitting the hole and making guys miss and making the most of each opportunity he's getting," White said. "He's creating a lot of explosive plays, and hopefully he continues to do that."
Gordon has a career yards-per-carry average of 10.0, which is on track to shatter White's mark. Already, he has become the fastest player in UW history to reach 1,000 career rushing yards (104 carries) against Tennessee Tech. And he rushed for a career regular-season high 193 yards with two touchdowns last week against Arizona State.
Despite his success, Gordon doesn't believe he's in a position to ask for more carries.
"It really doesn't matter," Gordon said. "They call my number and that's what it is. I'm going to try to help make plays. James can make plays. We all can. So I don't get greedy with the carries or whatever. When they call me and my opportunity comes, I just try to make the best of it."
White, too, expressed acceptance of whatever role coaches provide for him.
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm going to make the most of the carries that I get. It's always been that way for me, so I'm never going to complain. I'm going to go out there, cheer for my teammates and make the most of my opportunities."
White began the season having never started a game at tailback for Wisconsin after taking a backseat to Montee Ball the past two years. He earned that starting role out of fall camp and hasn't done anything to relinquish it. His career 6.14 yards-per carry average is better than Ron Dayne (5.84) or Ball (5.56), a second-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos this year.
White will continue to be first on the team's depth chart, but it is possible Gordon could slowly steal a few carries away. Gordon, for one, said he still believed the starting spot was up for grabs.
"We're competing every day," Gordon said. "I'm still battling for the starting position. James is having good games. I'm having good games. We're both hot right now. So they just go with both of us. We're OK with that, so that's what it is for now."
A year ago, Gordon was used primarily on various sweep plays running across the field because he was the third option behind Ball and White. This season, Gordon is being used in his more natural position, behind center and between the tackles. But he admitted that, because he wasn't an every-down back, his yards-per-carry average was higher than what it might normally be.
Though Gordon is only averaging 12.3 carries per game, he said he was physically prepared to handle 25 to 30 carries, as Ball did last season, should running backs coach Thomas Hammock deem it necessary.
"That's how coach Hammock coaches us," Gordon said. "He coaches us hard so we'll be ready to carry like that and carry the team. I feel like all of us prepare for 20, 25 carries a game. It's just we've got so many good backs that we don't have to carry it that much."
Both tailbacks were used on the field at the same time against Arizona State -- two-back sets that are expected to continue as Big Ten play arrives. The prospect of facing two players as talented as White and Gordon should prove plenty scary for opposing defenses.
"It creates a lot of explosive plays," White said. "We did a lot last year with me and him on the field. We had a lot of explosive plays last year. If we work hard and execute in practice, it'll show up in the game again."
Regardless of which player is taking the carries, they'll be cheering for each other's successes as they always have.
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