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White Just Isn't Enough

Trojan running back scores three touchdowns and proves his worth, but it is in a losing effort

January 05, 2006|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

LenDale White stood on the Rose Bowl field Wednesday night in the shadow of the hooting and hollering Texas Longhorns and tried to make sense of the fact that he and his Trojan teammates weren't the ones who were hooting and hollering.

He tried to explain how he had escaped from the shadow of teammates Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush only to wind up in the shadow of Texas' Vince Young.

He tried to explain how the game of White's life had turned into a nightmare of a finish.

He tried to explain how he scored three touchdowns, yet came up about three inches short on a critical fourth-down play.

"I would give away all of those touchdowns if we could win," White said. "But you can't win them all. We have been winning for a very long time. Somebody has to lose and we played a great team tonight and an exceptional player in Vince Young.

"But I don't like to lose and I am not a loser."

White doesn't somersault into the end zone, a high-flying act in helmet and pads like Bush.

White doesn't dodge tacklers matador style or throw picture-perfect spirals like Leinart.

He doesn't have a Heisman Trophy to raise aloft, or pro teams salivating at the thought of getting him with the No. 1 pick in the draft.

All White does is score touchdowns with legs that drive like pistons and shoulders that lumber forward like battering rams.

And until the closing minutes of Texas' 41-38 victory Wednesday, on a night when Bush was largely bottled up and Leinart faced constant pressure from a relentless Longhorn defense, it appeared White would be the difference.

The 6-2, 235-pound junior opened the scoring in the first quarter with a four-yard run off tackle to give USC a 7-0 lead.

He burst up the middle from three yards to open the second-half scoring and move USC in front 17-16.

And after Texas had rallied to regain the lead, it was White again putting the Trojans on top, breaking free at the 12-yard line, high-stepping his way past one final would-be tackler and then pounding the cardinal- and-gold painted end zone as he put his Trojans back on top 24-23.

And as he ran, it wasn't only tacklers that were falling by the wayside. White scored his 24th rushing touchdown of the season, breaking the school record of 23 held by O.J. Simpson and tying the Pacific 10 Conference record total of Corey Dillon, set when Dillon was a member of the Washington Huskies.

In all, White rushed for 124 yards in 20 carries on Wednesday night.

Yet with all that, USC Coach Pete Carroll needed 126 yards from White. Facing a fourth-and-two situation at the Texas 45-yard line, with just over two minutes to play and USC holding on to a 38-33 lead, Carroll decided to go for the first down rather than punt.

"It was exactly the right thing to do," Carroll said.

"If we make the first down, the game is over. It was our chance to win it on offense when we couldn't win it on defense."

Carroll called on White, called for him to go off left tackle.

White did that, but only for one yard.

"There was a lot of pressure and we came up short," White said.

Texas took over on downs and drove for the winning score.

White patiently answered every question after Wednesday's game except one: With Leinart going pro and Bush presumed to be doing the same, would White stay at USC or toss his name into the NFL draft as well?

Asked about White's appeal to the NFL, one league executive in attendance Wednesday night at the Rose Bowl said, "I thought he showed a lot of strength. You've got to carry the load at the next level. He proved that he could carry the load against a defense with speed....That he could carry it time after time into the heart of the defense. And he showed the best burst tonight that I think he's shown.

"Now, he has to prove himself off the field. He's got to interview well and prove that he has solid character off the field to complement what he does on the field."

All White said was, "I've got a lot of thinking to do, but right now, my heart is with SC."

Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.

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