Trick plays a treat for White

James White

Opening up the offense worked like a charm in the Big Ten championship game for Wisconsin.

LOS ANGELES – For an offense so often described as old school, Wisconsin was seemingly anything but in its 70-31 demolition of Nebraska to win the Big Ten championship game and advance to its third consecutive Rose Bowl.

The Badgers ran the Wildcat, fly and jet sweeps, and a wide receiver pass on a night where anything offensive coordinator Matt Canada called worked to perfection.

"That was a special night, no doubt about it," Canada said Thursday.

"It was an aggressive game plan," running back James White said. "We wanted to be the Big Ten champions. We were going to leave it all out there. The coaches weren't going to hold back."

Wisconsin finished with 640 yards of total offense, the third-highest total in school history, and the culmination of a dramatic turnaround for a unit that could barely get out of its own way early in the season was complete.

With the limitations at the quarterback position, Canada found new ways to feature his running backs. He ran them behind seven, sometimes eight offensive linemen. He eschewed the traditional idea of the Wildcat by taking the quarterback off the field entirely.

It worked, as Wisconsin averaged 307.9 yards rushing in its final eight games, with Montee Ball, White, and Melvin Gordon crossing the century mark 12 times in that span.

"We've had some different formations, and personnel, things like that, different plays," wide receiver Jared Abbrederis said. "We've changed a lot since the beginning of the year. And I think it's been for the better."

The biggest change has been an increased role for White, who came to Southern California three years ago looking like an emerging star. He had rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his final three games, including a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan, to earn Big Ten freshman of the year honors.

But White was a non-factor in the 21-19 loss to TCU and saw Ball emerge as one of the nation's top backs the following year. When Ball announced he would return for his senior season, White admitted his "first thoughts" were of a transfer, only to quickly realize what the decision meant for Wisconsin.

"You think about it, it only makes our team that much better," White said.

Instead, he embraced the role as Ball's backup and eventually operating the Wildcat, known as the "Barge" for its use of multiple tight ends and extra offensive linemen. Canada said White got the nod over Ball in part because he better handled the mechanics of the huddle when the quarterback was out of the game.

It also featured his ability to use the entire field, whether it is running right up the middle, finding a cutback lane, or bouncing to the outside.

"It's a little bit of a guessing game," White said. "I can pretty much go wherever. People have to be very disciplined and don't get over anxious when they see it."

"We always want to get the ball in James' hands in open space because he's a very fast back," Ball said.

"It's kind of a trick we have in the bag."

The question is whether a disciplined Stanford defense that ranks third in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game will be susceptible.

"When you line up in a formation that somebody's never seen before, it gives you an advantage because they've never seen it. They're going to be a little confused or have base rules and get into that base look. Then you can hopefully take advantage of that," center Travis Frederick said.

"Now after you've run it once, they can adjust to it. But I think doing different things like that gives you an opportunity to throw the defense off guard."

Canada said that it would come down to execution of Wisconsin's base offense, but Ball hinted that new wrinkles were in the works.

"He was talking about a few on the way in here," Ball said.

Don't be surprised if it involves White's arm. He threw a three-yard touchdown pass against Nebraska, something he never got to do in high school.

"There's a lot of different plays you can run out of the formation," White said.

"Just have to keep their defense on the toes."

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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