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Wisconsin Badgers running back James White (20) goes on a 20-yard rush for a first down in the second quarter against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Saturday afternoon, Sept. 1, 2012. M.P. King-State Journal

Michael P. King

For a running back who built his reputation by running away from would-be tacklers, junior James White showed on Saturday he can run between the tackles, too.

That's important for the University of Wisconsin football team, which could be without starting tailback Montee Ball on Saturday at Nebraska. Ball suffered a second concussion in less than eight weeks in the Badgers' 37-26 victory over UTEP.

Most fans came away from that game talking about redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon, who had eight carries for 112 yards, with almost all of the yardage coming outside.

"I thought the majority of his runs were good," running backs coach Thomas Hammock said. "He was in space, it's a lot different when you have a chance to run in space than running up inside 30 times. Obviously, he had some opportunities to make some guys miss in space."

White, meanwhile, did most of the dirty work inside, finishing with 15 carries for 65 yards and two touchdowns. It was a remarkable role reversal for White, who is ordinarily the guy the Badgers hope to get in space to utilize his speed.

That's why the coaches developed a role this season to get him on the field in the slot, in the same formation with Ball.

But after Ball was dinged on a 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, Mr. Outside suddenly became Mr. Inside.

"It's just been a while since we've seen him in that role," UW coach Bret Bielema said of White at his Monday news conference. "I thought he was exceptional."

White, 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, hasn't added any weight since last season. But he has made it a point, since that personally disappointing season ended, to change his image.

"There were opportunities for me probably to put my shoulder down and get that extra yard and I didn't do that," White said of last season. "You just go back and watch the tape and see those runs where you could have fought for those extra yards, kind of look at those and go, 'Yeah, I definitely can work on that.' "

After a sensational true freshman season in which he rushed for 1,052 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry, White dipped last season to 713 yards and 5.1 average, still respectable by almost any standards.

"I think last year he saw himself as a make-you-miss guy," Hammock said. "Now, I think he's bringing a sense of power to the game, as well as the ability to make you miss."

Hammock gave each of the running backs two weaknesses to work on in the offseason. One of White's was to run with more power. The other was to be more physical as a blocker in blitz pickup.

White did have one poor attempt at picking up a blitz in the first quarter last week. He got caught too far inside on third-and-7 and allowed defensive end Horace Miller a clear path to quarterback Joel Stave and a sack.

If White wants to prove he can be an every-down back — which is one of his goals — that's a play he must make. White dislikes the perception he's a change-of-pace back, or a third-down specialist with excellent receiving skills. He longs to be considered an all-around back.

It would be a surprise if Ball is ready to play this week. With Gordon nipping at his heels, the window of opportunity could close quickly for White, although there certainly will be a role for both him and Gordon.

Nebraska has been vulnerable against the run, ranking 11th in the Big Ten Conference, giving up 177 yards per game. If the Badgers need to pound the ball with an inside-outside approach, Hammock believes White is capable of doing his part, especially after an increased workload in camp, when Ball was limited due to the first concussion.

"(White) showed me he can be an every-down back this camp," Hammock said.

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