Williams Provides Spark

STORRS, Conn. – Given his choice between an alias of Nick Welker or Wes Williams, Connecticut wide receiver Nick Williams rather reluctantly voiced his preference Tuesday. "I'll go with Wes Williams," he said with a twinge of humility.

Short people – especially those in the oversized world of college and pro football – have every right to form their own support group. So it's no surprise UConn's speedy junior receiver/returner looks up to Welker, the highly regarded and undersized receiver for the New England Patriots.

Welker is listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. Williams, who led the nation last season in kickoff returns, shows up on the UConn roster at 5-10 and 185 pounds. Both played games in Buffalo over the weekend but it was Williams and the Huskies who came away with a 17-3 victory at University of Buffalo Stadium, due in large part to two long receptions and a touchdown for Williams.

Now Williams has something else in common with Welker, because the UConn coaching staff is pretty excited about mixing the diminutive receiver into the Huskies' offensive scheme at the slot position.

"Yeah, absolutely," Williams said when asked if he watches and tries to emulate Walker. "Him, along with all the other smaller guys in the NFL who maybe aren't the fastest or the biggest. I root for all of them. Under 5-10 – anybody who's kind of playing an unconventional role, not just a receiver or a small defensive back.

"The underdog. I root for the underdog."

You might say Williams donned his superpower cape and a jersey with a big "U" on the front, just like the star of the old animated series "Underdog." The cartoon star's famous rhyme was, "There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!"

And Williams may have saved the day for UConn in more ways than one.

Buffalo's defense loaded up in the box to stop UConn's running game and dared the Huskies to pass. But UConn responded with 213 yards passing – 113 of those on the two receptions by Williams. They were just two plays but they paved the way for an important victory, allowed Johnny McEntee to separate himself as UConn's starting quarterback, and added a new dimension to an offense that has struggled this season.

"A couple of years ago, the demographics of football changed," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "When you look at it, the average per completion went down and the percentage of completions went up. And I credit that to Wes Welker when he went up to New England. All of a sudden, these short passes in the slot were in vogue.

"And now it seems like there's hope and there's opportunity for the Nick Williams of the world, who aren't the biggest guys. But they're feisty, they change direction real good, they catch the ball and they make plays."

McEntee connected with Williams on UConn's longest pass play of the year in the second quarter at Buffalo. Williams showed off his speed on the 64-yard play that advanced the ball to the Buffalo 4. McEntee followed that up with a four-yard TD pass to fullback Mark Hinkley.

The second catch by Williams resulted in a 49-yard TD with 4:52 left in the game. That gave everyone on the UConn sideline the ability to breath a little easier.

"On the touchdown run, the defender was on his back and he shook the defender off and broke free," Pasqualoni said.

The performance by Williams seemed to be uplifting for Pasqualoni, something that was missing the past two weeks after tough losses.

"It's hard to describe how much fun it is for me," Pasqualoni said. "You see how hard he runs? You think there's a little intensity on the guy's face when he's got the ball and his legs are going as fast as they can possibly go?"

It was the same type of excitement Williams generated last season while setting the single-season school record with a 35.3-yard average on kickoff returns. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season but until Saturday his last TD reception on a pass play had come in high school in New Jersey.

In recent weeks, Williams had been pestering McEntee to throw him the ball. The two room together on campus, along with cornerback Dwayne Gratz. The three players gather in the living room for some extra one-on-one route work, with McEntee at QB and Williams trying to get open against the defense of Gratz.

"Nick came make those big plays for us," McEntee said. "He's a little small, but he makes up for it with his shiftiness and the ability to break those tackles. It's nice to have more options."

Williams is a hybrid at the slot, part running back and part receiver. The hope is that he can continue giving the offense great mileage. Williams never ran track, so he doesn't use the mechanics or technique of a sprinter. And any coach with an accurate stopwatch wouldn't give much thought to Williams after a series of 40-yard dash drills.

"You would look at the watch and you'd say, ‘I'm not that impressed,' " Pasqualoni said.

Fortunately for the Huskies, the viewing experience is much more pleasurable when Williams has the ball and is leaving defenders behind. No watch can measure that.

"We're excited about that," Pasqualoni said. "He made some tough catches. And we're optimistic we can make a few more of these plays."

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