Several talented running backs are enjoying breakout seasons: Trayveon Williams of Texas A&M, Mike Weber of Ohio State and Rayleigh Williams of Arkansas are a few.
However, one back has missed a majority of the past two years and is finally showing off his talent, but no one around the country is taking notice.
One of the biggest story lines concerning the BYU Cougars’ offense this year has been the health of quarterback Taysom Hill. Over the past two seasons, Hill has suffered season-ending injuries–a leg fracture and ligament tear in 2014 and a Lisfranc injury last year. Through six games this season, Hill has stayed upright and been productive for the Cougars.
While it’s most certainly a great sight to see Hill staying healthy, his status is overshadowing the even more important story line at the heart of this BYU offense: running back Jamaal Williams.
In 2014, BYU traveled to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Late in the third quarter, Williams suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Last season, Williams stepped away from BYU for “personal reasons.”
Before his 2014 injury, Williams produced an amazing start to his career. He rushed for 775-yards and 12 scores his freshman season and 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns his sophomore year. Entering his junior year at BYU, Williams was seen as a Doak Walker candidate. But now, in his last year in Provo, Utah, Williams is enjoying a renaissance.
Through the first half of the season, Williams has been running wild against opposing defenses.
Currently, Williams has 866 yards –good for second nationally behind San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey (891)–and 10 touchdowns on the season. Williams is recording these numbers with a combination of speed, power and grit.
He runs through opposing defenders for extra yardage. Williams has also forced a nation-leading 35 missed tackles this season, nearly six missed tackles per game.
On Oct. 1 of this season, Williams and the Cougars took on the Toledo Rockets. Williams showed off his blazing speed. He found hole after hole as he rushed for 286 yards–a school record–against Toledo. In his game-breaking performance, Williams displayed speed on every one of his large-chunk runs. After the game, BYU coach Kalani Sitake stated that Williams’ performance reminded him of the night that San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk ran for 299 on the Cougars back in 1992. That is very high praise for a back who is relatively unknown to most of the country.
While he flashed his speed against Toledo, Williams showed grit and power when BYU took on the Michigan State Spartans a week later.
The game clock read 4:11 left in the fourth quarter, with BYU on its 36-yard line. Hill took the snap and handed the rock to Williams.
Sixty-two yards later, Williams was taken down at the Michigan State 2. That run helped Williams top the 100-yard mark after gaining tough yard after tough yard against Michigan State’s defense.
Unlike his outing against Toledo, Williams ran into considerable resistance from a defense that previously allowed 106 yards per game on the ground. The Spartans have too good a defense to allow Williams to rush for 286 yards. Yet, Williams kept on battling for 163 rushing yards, enough to top MSU’s defensive average by 57.
Williams’ performance through the first of half this season has brought him within 63 yards of Harvey Unga’s BYU career record of 3,455 rushing yards. He should top that mark this Friday–Oct. 14–against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Looking at the Cougars’ remaining six games, Williams has several chances to end the year as the nation’s leading rusher, earning coast-to-coast recognition in ways that have evaded him to this point in his career.
BYU faces four top-75 run defenses in its last half of the year–Mississippi State, Boise State, Cincinnati and Utah State. The Cougars also face a No. 100 run defense team, UMass, and an FCS opponent, Southern Utah, which should help pad Williams’ statistics.
It’s great to see Hill stay healthy for the Cougars because before his injuries, he was a dark horse Heisman candidate. However, it is time for the nation to realize the greatness Williams is showing this year.