Cougs vs. Vandals: Skyler Cracraft’s 1-on-1 matchup features RB James Williams, here's why

PULLMAN -- There is one matchup in particular that I’ll be keying on when Washington State hosts Idaho on Saturday (11 am, Pac-12 Network). Because when Cougar second-year freshman running back James Williams goes against Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss, they ought to sell popcorn. Here’s why.

Williams was notably moved up the depth chart on Monday – and it was evident on the field too during this past week of practice I observed.

Williams is an extremely dynamic running back. He hits holes hard and doesn’t hesitate at the line of scrimmage. He boasts an impressive combination of body control, balance and power.  In other words, Williams can run around you, through you, and even hurdle you. Unfortunately, I know this firsthand. More on that in a moment.

Elliss himself is a pretty dynamic player for the Vandals. He lines up mostly at inside linebacker but can play coming off the edge as well. He’s only a second-year sophomore but is already one of UI’s defensive leaders with 15 tackles (7 solo) and one sack that came against the Huskies this past week.

It’s bound to happen that Williams and Elliss meet on several occasions Saturday -- whether it be in pass protection or in the run game. Here’s a clip during the first quarter of Idaho-UW where Elliss beat the left tackle on a pass rush, got the sack and strip to cause a turnover.

FIRST, I want to see Williams pick up his blitzes in pass protection on Saturday. The Vandals like to use Elliss in pass rush as you can see from the GIF above, and Williams hasn’t had many game reps protecting Falk, so that’s something I’ll keep my eye on.

SECONDLY, I’d like to share that I’ve had the personal experience of being run over by Williams – and I don’t like to talk about it much. For those who were at a TNF practice last year, Williams might or might not have hurdled me on a particular play.  Maybe. Reportedly. Supposedly.  Whatever.

What I’m trying to say here is that Williams is the full package as a running back, and Cougar fans haven’t seen nearly his full potential. Saturday might give him the right platform to display his full skills set.

But … if Elliss can have an impact like BSU’s Tanner Vallejo did last week, it could be a long day for the Cougar offense -- and specifically for the running backs.

ANOTHER PIECE OF the puzzle, and a big one, resides on the Cougar offensive line. Williams only needs a little crease to make something happen, but the o-line didn’t create nearly enough of those openings on the ground vs. BSU.

The Cougs need a big showing against the Vandals on Saturday. A big win would definitely boost this team’s confidence going into the bye week and then on to conference play -- WSU opens up Pac-12 play against Oregon, at Stanford, and UCLA.

* WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro on Williams’ move to second-string on the depth chart behind Jamal Morrow: “We need the ball in his hands more. In 27 years, I’ve never had a running back that is as athletic as that kid is. So we’ve got to get him on the field.”

* Elliss finished second on the Vandals in tackles last year as a true freshman with 83 stops (57 solo).

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