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It's Touch-and-Go as White Gains 102 Yards

September 14, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Forgive Manuel White if he didn't recognize the oblong object he found in his hands on the first play of UCLA's game against Illinois on Saturday night.

It was the football.

"At first, I'm not going to lie, I was a little rusty," White said with a sly smile.

He shook off the rust rather well, rushing for 102 yards in 18 carries.

It was the first 100-yard game of White's career, and it was easily the offensive highlight of a 6-3 UCLA victory at the Rose Bowl in which neither team scored a touchdown.

White, the starting fullback, is 6 feet 3 and 245 pounds, a bruising alternative to tailback Tyler Ebell, who is 5-9 and 180.

But White didn't touch the ball in UCLA's season-opening loss to Colorado, despite Coach Karl Dorrell's stated intent to get him some carries at tailback.

The Bruins went to White early and often this time, particularly in the second half, when White carried the ball 12 times for 63 yards as UCLA tried to run the clock and hold onto its slender lead.

His 22-yard carry in the third quarter was UCLA's longest gain, pass or run, of the game.

"The last couple of drives, we featured him as a tailback and he gave us some production there," Dorrell said. "That's a stepping stone."

Ebell finished with eight carries for 44 yards, and he had only two carries in the second half.

"I think Manuel had the hot hand, and we had to go with him," running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. "That's no knock on Tyler. Tyler's still our starting tailback."

Or, as quarterback Drew Olson put it, "Tyler's still the man."

Funny how things work out.

White began last season as the starting fullback, but became the starting tailback in the fifth game against Oregon State after a 76-yard performance against San Diego State.

It was still the first quarter when a hamstring pull knocked him out of the game and out of a job.

Ebell, then a true freshman, came off the bench to rush for 203 yards, the 14th-highest rushing total in UCLA history.

White missed the next three games, but it wouldn't have mattered. He was no longer the starter.

"I didn't get down. I kept my head up. I just want to win," he said.

Funny, he was just getting comfortable at fullback this season, but now he's certain to play both positions.

"It's just different. Tailback is instinct, reactions," said White, a redshirt junior who ran for 6,746 yards during his career at Valencia High, finishing with the fourth-highest total in California history and averaging 8.3 yards a carry his senior season.

At UCLA, he has been primarily seen as a fullback.

"Fullback is more mental. You have to find your man to block," he said.

But it hardly has to be either/or at tailback with Ebell and White.

"We have two different styles of running," White said. "We can both get in there and do what we do. He's more speedy, with great moves. I'm more punishing."

He kept at it so hard Saturday, he didn't know he had become the Bruins' first 100-yard rusher of the season.

"I don't know what is in store now. I think it will be me and Tyler, like before," White said.

"And when I'm at fullback, I have to block my butt off to open holes for Tyler."

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