Williams Readies For An Egg Bowl Opportunity

This business of taking over for an injured veteran? It's nothing new to Damian Williams at all. He's done it before…way back in his freshman season of high school.

"Yes, I filled-in when a guy got hurt," Williams said. "And I did pretty well, so Coach kept me there. And I just tried to do as best I can for the years I played."

Pretty well? All he did as a 2009 freshman taking over mid-season was lead Archbishop Rummel High to the Louisiana state championship game. And Williams' prep career was capped in 2012 with a perfect 14-0 season and the state title. Oh, and championship game Most Valuable Player honors.

So yeah, something big might have started this month when Mississippi State's #3 quarterback of 2013 and a true college freshman was thrust onto the stage by injuries to both his veteran peers. But to imagine back in August that Williams would find himself listed as the starting Mississippi State quarterback, in an all-or-nothing regular season finale?

"No sir! No sir, nothing like this," Williams said. "But I'm trying to do the best I can to fulfill the position."

If judged solely by Williams' work last Saturday, the kid is capable of filling the quarterback's spot just fine. Working one whole first-quarter series in alternation with senior starter Tyler Russell, then alternating in some specific down-and-distance settings during other possessions, Williams gave a steady performance. Nothing spectacular with 2-of-3 passing for 14 yards and six rushes for another 16 yards. It was just doing the limited job designed for him during Arkansas game week.

But when Russell was slung to the War Memorial Stadium plastic turf on the final series of regulation, re-injuring the throwing shoulder already hurt a week earlier, suddenly it was all up to Williams. Other veteran Dak Prescott wasn't dressed after a November 9 injury damaging a left-arm nerve.

He only took two snaps as the emergency #1 guy, but what plays they were. A short pass to Jameon Lewis netted 15 yards for a missed field goal that meant overtime. And on the first play of extra-time, Williams called his own number and dashed through interior traffic for the 25-yard touchdown that was MSU's margin of 24-17 victory.

A heroic performance to be sure and one to be long remembered in Bulldog circles. Flawless? Welllll…

"I messed up on some small things," said Williams of the entire day. "And things that I can improve on which are really my fault." Those are technical items which coaching is addressing right now as the Bulldogs prepare for another Battle for the Golden Egg. What might matter more now is the great big boost in confidence for both Williams and the offense. They delivered a victory under as much duress as imaginable, which can only improve emotional odds going into an under-dog situation Thursday.

Certainly odds-makers are hedging bets, so to speak, based on Mississippi State's quarterbacking uncertainties. Coach Dan Mullen said Monday that Russell was "day to day" just as last week but there were few indications the gutsy senior can be ready on a short week for his home finale. Prescott is supposedly unavailable until a bowl game, and Mullen clarified Monday he was not talking about the Egg Bowl either.

So for now it is a first-year frosh bearing the weight of all Bulldog ambitions. Or at least the arch-rivalry game's plans. Williams had already played prior to Little Rock; almost an entire half against Alcorn State and more second-half snaps against Troy. That was back in two September romps, and at the time fans questioned—to put it mildly—Mullen's wisdom in activating a new quarterback so soon.

By November, though it couldn't be called planned at all, the decision looks much smarter. And the unexpected seasoning Williams has received proved priceless in game-eleven. It wasn't entirely positive on the field, Mullen agreed.

"Damian, it's been pretty interesting now for the last two weeks he's had his number called at some interesting times. I guess as a coach I've done him a favor, his first play (against #1 Alabama) was at the minus-three-yard line; and his last play was in overtime! He didn't get many snaps in-between. So I guess as far as big situations we've thrown him in that fire the last couple of weeks."

Happily, Williams has emerged unscorched so far. And his straight-ahead style of play has more than a few recalling another Bulldog quarterback who wore #14 and made great big plays with fast footwork. Williams is now hearing himself called ‘Little Relf' by coaches and club in comparison to 2009-12 triggerman Chris Relf.

"I don't know much about Relf!" Williams said. "I kind of go along with it. Hey, they make it easy for me cracking jokes because I'm under a lot of stress right now."

For a stressed-out frosh, Williams certainly seemed at ease Monday evening following practice. He even paused mid-meal (pasta and fish with salad) to talk a few minutes with media. And to critique the food just a bit, as any good New Orleans area native would. As for Thursday's menu, that is something of a mystery for an imported ballplayer who hasn't experienced an Egg Bowl before.

"And the guys are filing me in on what it's about. I kind of understand the situation but I really won't feel it until I get out there and feel the atmosphere."

Williams' work resumes with today's practice, followed by what should be an even better meal as Mississippi State has team Thanksgiving dinner a couple of evenings early. Both are closed and Williams won't have to speak with media again until following the game, at which time the Bulldogs will know if their season is extended into bowl season.

And, if this #14 has followed the lead of the other one. Relf's legend is built upon his three Egg Bowl victories after all, the first of them as a mid-game substitute in fact.

"Hey, I'd like to be that way, too!" said Williams, who'd also like to make his own Egg Bowl name in the process.

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