Think about it, that is a huge change of football life for Williams. Or any star prep back. He’s gone from getting the football every play possible in high school, to spending most of his rotation snaps on Scott Field as a decoy with the ball directed elsewhere.
Know what? Williams is just fine with this redshirt freshman role. Because, he said, he’s not at the stage to be an every-down back. Getting there, as his six rush, 26 yard, and one touchdown line against Louisiana Tech showed.
Just not there yet.
“I think I can do better, know what I’m saying, with my personnel and reading off my blocks,” Williams said. “I mean I have to do a lot better if I want to be the back I’m supposed to be.”
And a big part of being a Bulldog back is what happens when not taking the handoff. Maybe the biggest part this 2015 season, what with Mississippi State’s offense leaning so heavily to and upon passing plays. Williams gets it. He’s getting with it, too.
“I think I’m doing a lot better with the pass blocking and stuff like that.” That is, what Williams does after a backfield bluff that #27 is getting the ball and heading upfield. Conning the defense, in other words.
He even likes it now.
“That means a lot because you’re trying to open up your receivers, your teammates. That counts a lot, to be honest that really counts a lot.”
Honestly, everything counts so much more at this level than before. Williams’ abilities to carry a football aren’t in question. The few flashes shown in limited rotation snaps prove this freshman, much like classmate Dontavian Lee, are the future of the position. Fans want them to be the present, naturally.
There is now on-field support for this, umm, position. Such as, Williams now has two rushing touchdowns. Sure that’s not much in a normal MSU season, but 2015 ain’t normal. Only first-team back Ashton Shumpert has also scored among the full-time running backs, and he has one touchdown. Three TDs ought be a game for a standard Mississippi State running back corps; so far this season it is their total tally.
But. Before Dan Mullen and run game coordinator John Hevesy entrust the ground game to Williams, Lee, anyone, means proving a grasp of the whole game plan. Pass protection is the obvious first requirement, much more so this year since State’s air attack is the biggest and best part of the offense.
Something else sticks out to backs Coach Greg Knox though, and he’s stressing it to the freshmen. Vision. Seeing what is happening ahead, to either side, everywhere. Simply, the eyes have it.
“You have to scan the defense from left-to-right,” said Williams. “That’s it. You’ve got to know exactly your front, what blitzes they’ve got coming up, and what the (other) teams like to run a lot on third down and first down. Stuff like that.”
When Williams sees it rightly, though, good things can happen. Like his touchdown tote last Saturday, into and through goal-line traffic. “I mean I was pretty excited about it. I’d just like to thank my offensive line, I’d like to thank God.” He might credit an unintended assist from Shumpert, whose back tightened-up on the junior during practices.
“I knew right then we probably were going to get a lot of carries. Because (Brandon) Holloway and Shump usually are the backs, with Shump going down it’s just Holloway. Somebody had to step up.”
Given chances Williams is stepping up. But…one other factor still must be addressed. Not just with Williams but Lee as well. The good things both have done have been checked by fumbles. Lee got away with one Saturday, the ball rolling out of bounds. Williams wasn’t so lucky when stripped at Texas A&M, as the Aggies recovered inside their own five-yard line just when Mississippi State was trying to punch it in and make it a contest again.
Williams understands. Until coaches and for that matter teammates trust their protection of the football as much as protecting a passer, snaps will continue to be rationed.
“Fumbling the ball is just mental. You have to mentally strain as Coach Mullen is saying. If you go out there just running the ball without thinking about holding the ball, you’re going to fumble. So you have to squeeze onto the ball and protect it like you do in practice.”
Hopefully practicing perfects this part. Because for all Dak Prescott’s passing prowess, all the ability in the receiver corps, this week resumes SEC season. Meaning, Mississippi State can’t just count on the air attack all-time.
As the offensive line finds its own footing at mid-season, the pressure is on Bulldog backs to produce.
“I mean, we’ve got to do a lot better running the ball,” Williams said. “Like Coach Knox always says, we’ve got to open our eyes and read the hole better and hit the hole without any second-guessing.”