The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Williams has made 30 tackles in limited action. He ranks tied for ninth on the team in total tackles, and only has eight less than the junior Kuntz.
"That's a very, very high number," head coach Charlie Weis said of the number of tackles Williams has made in relation to the number of snaps he's played.
Irish coaches and fans got a taste of what Williams can do as a regular player last weekend in the 46-44 triple-overtime loss to Navy. Williams made a career-high 11 tackles against Navy's run-dominant attack, replacing an injured Kuntz in the first quarter. He helped the Irish hold the nation's top-ranked rushing offense to nearly 100 yards under their game average.
"I was very pleased with Ian Williams' performance," Weis said.
"I can't say I was surprised, but going into the game we thought that we were going to have to play him some more because of all the chop blocks that go on. We thought he was going to have to get more action and rest Pat some. We didn't realize that Pat was going to get banged up and he was going to have to play so much, but I thought he handled it and played pretty well.
Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown agreed.
"He just made plays," Brown stated. "He took on blocks. That guy he played against was pretty good. He went in there and handled himself with a lot of poise, which was good. As coaches, you don't really think about who is going in. It's next guy in. When he went in, you didn't have to worry about it."
Not that they ever do, but Weis and Brown won't have to worry about Williams when Air Force (7-3) and its rushing offense that is ranked fourth nationally at 272.8 yards per game comes to town this weekend. As of Thursday, Weis wasn't completely sure about the status of Kuntz for Saturday, but if he's not 100 percent, the Irish (1-8) should be okay with Williams ready to go for the whole game if needed.
In the long run, the Irish should be okay at nose tackle as well.
What was once a huge question mark when Brown and his 3-4 personnel defense arrived at Notre Dame, might quickly become a good problem to have. The first issue was if the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Kuntz could hold up at the position. He has played more than adequately, making 38 tackles and knocking down nine passes. Then the next question was about depth, and Williams has been a solid back-up. He will certainly push Kuntz for the starting job next season.
As far as next season goes, then there is Omar Hunter, who is making his official visit to Notre Dame this weekend. The 6-foot-2, 297-pound Buford, Ga. commit figures into the Irish's plans immediately. And don't sleep on Sean Cwynar, Brandon Newman and Hafis Williams. Weis and company have done a great job recruiting across the defensive line, and given themselves options of where to line guys up along the line of scrimmage.
One option is Kuntz could make the move to defensive end next season, like Laws has done this year.
Well, either he can make it or somebody else will be able to make it," Weis said. "What we're not going to do is get three or four deep at one position of good football players. We'll move people accordingly to make sure we get the best guys out there. But somebody is going to move. We're not going to get stacked four deep at nose tackle, and if those players are players we want on the field, we'll find whoever has the most versatility and get them to that position.
***Speaking of versatility, Air Force playmaker Chad Hall is definitely that. The senior is listed as a receiver, but lines up as a running back and sometimes at quarterback. Hall also wreaks havoc in the return game.
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Hall is the only player in the country that leads his team in both rushing and receiving yards. Last week he ran for 275 yards in the win over Army, and became the school's all-time leader in all-purpose yards.
This season, Hall has 1,122 yards rushing, 426 yards receiving and 13 combined touchdowns. His numbers are way up from a year ago when he just played running back and gained 784 yards rushing, and 117 yards receiving with six touchdowns.
"Well, they're finding more ways to get the ball in his hands," Weis said. Head coach Troy Calhoun took over this season for the retired Fisher DeBerry. "Last year, he was primarily just a running back that would get the ball. Now they're using him there, sometimes he's -- a lot of times he's at wide receiver. For example, to run the option, they have three different formations with the same -- with one personnel group, for example, they have three different formations to run an option, and in all of them, when it's all said and done, they want the ball in his hands."
***Fifth-year senior safety Tom Zbikowski has been invited and will play in the Senior Bowl. He ranks fourth on the team with 61 tackles, has forced three fumbles, recovered one, and intercepted a pass this season.