He'd played before of course; almost a whole half against Alcorn State back on September 7 and again against Troy. Then last week a shoulder injury to QB Tyler Russell put Williams on-field for three series against #1 Alabama. This, though, was the rookie's real coming-out party.
And he was ready. "I was well-prepared, I practiced all week like I was going to start the game," Williams said. "So I just filled the position."
Fit the need, too, as both the call and the carry caught Arkansas flat-hooved. Williams had entered a few times early in the game for obvious keepers or read-options and the like; and run some whole series as well. This though the Razorbacks weren't ready for, and while a couple of them made contact en route "I was already in the end zone," Williams said. "I knew the O-line and the rest of the guys were going to help me get through it, and they did."
Coach Dan Mullen had no choice but use his youngest quarterback in overtime. Russell went out late in regulation with, apparently, another injury to the same throwing shoulder. The co-captain did take part in the coin toss, won by Arkansas; otherwise he stood watching OT with right arm held tight to the body.
So it was Williams' game to win and State adapted its tactics accordingly. Mullen said there weren't the usual checks and reads at the line, "Or other stuff. No read, just keep it and run it." All the way into the end zone.
Williams admitted the week was, in his own word, "stressful" preparing for a SEC game with Russell iffy and QB Dak Prescott out entirely. Russell did not even practice an entire day all week, only half of one. "Tyler threw Thursday," Mullen said. "He was sore and didn't throw Friday, he said I'll be OK. It's not like he needed to get more throws, he knows what he's doing."
What State would do was uncertain until an hour before gametime when Russell was given to TV as the tentative starter. Mullen had watched warmups very carefully. "Tyler came in and said he was OK; I said fastballs or changeups? He said I'm going to be throwing some changeups but I'll be able to make the throws today."
As it turned out even Russell's changeups, or sliders at least, were good enough for a 263-yard day with touchdowns to RB LaDarius Perkins and WR Jameon Lewis. His touch even worked well against the stiff breeze blowing against him in the second and third periods. Then came the sack that left Russell on the turf and signaling he needed help.
Cue Williams, who was both in game-synch and still fresh. Interestingly, he said the late-relief against Alabama made him even more ready for tied-game intensities. "It definitely helped my confidence, knowing I can be successful against SEC opponents. So it really helped a lot."
As did an offense that by now accepts a first-year Dog under center. Or in the shotgun, rather. "I know it's hard to trust a freshman quarterback in any situation, any league. So I thank those guys."
Mullen had no update on Russell immediately after the win. He did mention that Prescott is "probably out until the bowl game" with the nerve damaged late in the Texas A&M game.
HOME BOYS: Williams thanked all blockers for making the touchdown possible, but singled one Dog out in particular. "The O-line and Josh Robinson got me through, I didn't do anything but run."
Robinson said he'd given specific instructions to his younger teammate for that first-down play, too. "I mean shoot, I just told him follow me and I'll lead the way. I was going through my reads just like I was running the ball." Except he wasn't running, he was making bacon long enough for the quarterback to break into the clear.
"I turned fullback…" Robison began, then "Nah, I'm never a fullback! I'm just a good blocking running back! I've just got to do my job, my 1/11th."
Make that his one second half, because Robinson didn't get a touch in the first. Starter LaDarius Perkins ran six times, for 32 net yards, and scored a 15-yard touchdown catch-and-crunch from Russell that ended his game with bruised ribs from a spectacular flying collision with a Razorbacks safety. RB Derrick Milton got two touches and fumbled the second at Arkansas' three-yard line.
Enter Robinson, though only after intermission, to begin a 101-yard half of gains on 17 carries…and one great big key block. "I just did what I was supposed to do, I didn't do nothing special. I did what I was coached to do, low pad level, went through my reads."
As to why so long before getting in on the action, Robinson had an idea.
"I had the flu at the beginning of the week and didn't practice one day, so I guess that took a toll." As for classmate Milton, "I told him keep his head up, mistakes happen sometimes. He's going to learn from it and be a better player. He coaches me up, I coach him up, that's my brother from Pineville."
Yes, there was that angle. Asked if he was at all surprised by Williams' game-winning run, "Lemme tell you something; that's what Louisiana boys do!" Robinson proclaimed proudly. "He's from New Orleans, I'm from Bogalusa, that's what we do! We got that bond, he trusts me so I brought him to the house."
However, Robinson doesn't restrict affection to skill players from the Pelican State. Mississippian and freshman Ashton Shumpert scores big for his brutal blocking, too. "Shump, that's my young boy. He'll knock your head off!"
PICK, NO SIX: State's win ended not on that touchdown as the defense had to return to the field…fast, as DT P.J. Jones said. "I was like wow, did we really score on one play? Dang, it's up to us!"
Clinching victory fell to CB Taveze Calhoun, who'd made his first career interceptions (two of ‘em) only last week against Alabama. He got between target and ball on fourth down at the 12-yard line. Sealing success wasn't enough though. Calhoun took off for the other end and made it to Arkansas' 40 before getting dragged down by an already-beaten team.
"That shows our mindset, he could have easily intercepted the ball and fell down but he wanted to score a touchdown!" said Jones.
"Calhoun, that's' what we call him," Robinson said. "I've been with him since day one and we study together, we eat together, we do everything together."
State has now intercepted five passes in the last three SEC games.
CAREFUL COACH: Mississippi State had an excellent shot at winning in regulation, two of them actually. On 2nd-and-18 at the Razorback 25, after a false start by senior OG Gabe Jackson, Russell threw for WR De'Runnya Wilson in the end zone. He made the catch but pushed off a defender in the process for offensive interference.
"I guess they said he pushed off," Mullen said. "I don't know, I have to watch myself!" Indeed so because as the coach was headed for dangerous SEC territory athletic director Scott Stricklin made a not-too-discrete cough of warning, which had everyone in the little room grinning.
"I get frustrated, I wanted it to be a catch, OK?" Mullen said. "So maybe I have blinders on!" Besides, he added, "Steve Shaw and the commissioner will tell me it was completely the right call." Mullen added that after raging about a call earlier this season, on an interception that wasn't, he ran across that same official weeks later and apologized for "ripping" him. "I really wanted that interception, though!"
State got through the first three quarters Saturday without any penalties.
BOOTED: Because of those penalties State was pushed out of field goal position. Williams and Lewis combined to get the ball back to the 25 on a pass play, and PK Devon Bell crushed his kick. It went too far right though, as the kicker compensated a bit too much for the in-and-crossing wind at that end of the stadium.
"I appreciate Devon," Mullen said. "And I'm sure the question will come, in overtime he would have gone right back out there." Bell made a 24-yarder in the second quarter but had a 28-yarder blocked in the third, no fault of his own as the big Hog bulled his blocker far enough backwards to make a clean rejection.
SHOW-UP SENIOR: He led his team with ten tackles, none bigger than the last two as FS Nickoe Whitley twice saved touchdowns. His tackle of tight end Jeremy Sprinkle after a 44-yard gainer at the 12-yard line still left Arkansas in field goal range easily (with the wind) and for that matter lots of time to play for a touchdown.
But on the next play, a carry by Alex Collins, it was Whitley not only making the stop but stripping the ball and for good measure recovering the fumble. "Huge," Mullen said, yet "That's what is expected. He's been here a long time."
"I look at key moments for us and you always go back to guys who found a way to do it," the coach said, recalling two prior forced-fumbles of note in SEC wins. "John Banks and Tennessee last year made a huge play to really swing momentum to help us win the game. Chris White did it at Florida (2010). Those seniors know it is that moment. Other guys are going to make plays but I'm the guy, I'm a fifth years senior and starting all these years.. And Nickoe has made tons and tons and tons of plays since he's been here, but I'll never forget that play."
It was Whitley's first forced fumble or recovery this season, though he has a team-best four interceptions and 14 for his career, two short of the program record.
MSU-ELLANEOUS: Mississippi State won for the first time ever, against any opponent, in the state of Arkansas after ten prior tries and a lone tie (1993)…This was the program's eighth overtime game with a 4-4 record now, 1-3 against Arkansas with prior OTs in 1996, 2000, and 2010…State snapped a six-game road losing streak…The win was the first fourth-quarter comeback by a Mullen team after 25 such losses…QB Tyler Russell moved up to third in career passing yardage before halftime and now has 5,441, going past both Don Smith and Derrick Taite in the same day. He trails only record-holder Wayne Madkin (6,336) and Kevin Fant (5,631)…It was Russell's tenth 200-yard passing game, leaving him one short of the program record shared by three predecessors…RB LaDarius Perkins is now second in MSU career all-purpose yards behind only Anthony Dixon…LB Deontae Skinner returned to action after missing two games with injury and had a tackle on the game's second snap, with three on the day.