Mike White’s senior season has been a battle.
The Conference USA preseason offensive player of the year has remained steadfast in a season of adjusting to new coaches, new plays, new schemes and, above all, new personnel. The quarterback is likely to play Saturday at Marshall, but his status is officially day-to-day after taking a beating last time out at Vanderbilt.
“Mike White right now, obviously banged-up in that game against Vanderbilt, took a pretty mean lick on the sideline and landed funny,” WKU coach Mike Sanford said Monday. “Right now just awaiting confirmation. He is day-to-day as of right now.”
Western Kentucky has allowed 29 sacks this season after giving up just 22 in 14 games in 2016. White was brought down six times last week in a 31-17 loss at Vanderbilt – and crunched and crushed on numerous other plays.
The loss of left tackle Forrest Lamp (a second-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Chargers) and right tackle Darrell Williams (now playing with San Francisco) from the ’16 offensive line is only part of the reason White has been in such peril. Western’s inability to have a consistent, respectable run game has also allowed opposing defense to rush White without hesitation.
“For him to show the type of resolve, to show the type of toughness – and with all that going on still be a top-15 passer in college football with a brand-new group of receivers, essentially, outside of (senior) Nacarius Fant – I mean real contributors to what we’re doing,” Sanford said. “These are all new names for him, new starters on the offensive line, and Mike White’s just shown unbelievable toughness.”
White’s receiving corps has formed into shape nicely as he’s learned to play without all-time WKU greats Taywan Taylor (a third-round pick by Tennessee) and Nicholas Norris. Going into Game 10, White has five targets with at least 200 yards receiving and senior tight end Deon Yelder – who didn't play at VU – has emerged a go-to guy in the passing game.
But with the Hilltoppers having the nation’s worst rushing attack, White has had to throw 59 of his attempts on third down and at least seven yards to gain for a first down – he only did that 49 times all of last year. Those scenarios, of course, allow linebackers and defensive linemen to come at the QB with reckless abandon.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound redshirt-senior’s ability to pull himself up off the turf time and time again will get the attention of professional scouts, Sanford believes.
“The toughness that he’s shown this year, I think that is gonna project best for his future at the next level,” Sanford said. “It’s easy to sit in a clean pocket and throw all over the field to Taylor and Norris and hand the ball off to (running back Anthony) ‘Ace’ Wales. It’s a lot more challenging when those pieces aren’t around anymore and the pocket’s not necessarily clean all the time.”
White’s passing numbers through nine games this year aren’t too dissimilar from those from last year. He’s completed 52 more passes on 97 more attempts for just 131 fewer yards and his 65 percent completion rate is about four points lower than at this time last year.
White does have one more interception through nine games and nine fewer TD passes – but he’s also rushed for a team-high six touchdowns.
The South Florida transfer goes into the weekend ranked 14th nationally with 294.7 yards passing per game and with 2,652 total passing yards, third with 42 pass attempts per game, tied for fourth with 377 pass attempts and is tied for 17th with a completion percentage of 65.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop