UTEP’s Aaron Jones, the nation’s top rusher after Week 1, missed most of last season. And the nation’s top passer didn’t play at all in 2015.
Quarterback Mike White threw for 517 yards and three touchdowns in his debut Saturday for Western Kentucky, leading the Hilltoppers’ 46-14 victory against Rice.
In his first game after sitting out last year when he transferred from USF, White recorded only the third 500-yard passing game in school history. The other two were achieved by his predecessor, Brandon Doughty — ASN’s 2015 FBS Player of the Year and now a member of the Miami Dolphins.
“It’s obviously a good feeling,” said White, who completed 25 of 31 passes with no interceptions. “This is what we all come here for, to compete and go out on the field and play with our brothers next to us.”
On Monday, White was named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. He beat out Jones with 517 passing yards, which lead the nation, rank third in WKU single-game history and 10th in C-USA history. He also leads the nation in yards-per-pass attempt (16.7) and ranks second in passer rating (252.67).
The Hilltoppers rushed for only 97 yards against NMSU, but why run when you can throw?
“It’s comforting as a quarterback,” said White, crediting senior wide receivers Nicholas Norris (147 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions) and Taywan Taylor (five catches for 165 yards).
“I’ve never had anything like this. It’s crazy when you look to your left and you’ve got (Norris and Taylor) and you look to the right and you have (junior Nacarius) Fant. It makes your job at quarterback a little easier. You know, they bail you out on some throws, and sometimes we bail them out. We hold ourselves accountable and I think we have a really good relationship.”
Jones rushed for a career-high 249 yards in his return, a 38-22 UTEP victory over New Mexico State. He missed last season after injuring his ankle in the second game.
“It was an unbelievable performance,” said Miners head coach Sean Kugler. “He was just so happy to be back out there and I was so happy for him. He has built his body up. He was 165 pounds, then 185, now he’s a 210-pound kid. Today was kind of important for him. He wanted to be in the series, he wanted the ball.”
He carried 31 times, a career high, scored on runs of 37 and 75 yards and added a pair of catches for 43 yards to finish with 292 total yards, also a personal best.
“A special player,” said Aggies head coach Doug Martin.
If there’s a negative, Kugler joked, “He can’t throw the ball to save his life.”
But why throw when you can run?
And what will Jones and White do for an encore against two of the nation’s top teams?
UTEP travels to Texas on Saturday while Western Kentucky plays at Alabama. The No. 1-ranked Tide blasted Southern California, 52-6, while the Longhorns upset Notre Dame, 50-44 in overtime.
“One game does not a season make,” Texas head coach Charlie Strong said on Monday. “You can’t just be a one-night wonder.”
True, but Jones and White — along with Alabama and Texas — are off to great starts.