Mendenhall: Jamaal Williams is on the right track

The Brigham Young Cougars entered the 2012 season expecting a legion of seniors to lead the team. It was expected that 29 seniors would be on the roster. Their experience and leadership was going to carry the team. There didn’t appear to be any room for a young sapling to grow among this forest of redwoods.

Jamaal Williams, the youngest of BYU’s saplings, has shown otherwise.

With four running backs ahead of him on the depth chart in July, Williams was a prime candidate to redshirt. A surprise move by Joshua Quezada to transfer just before the season started opened an opportunity. However, two backs still stood in the way.

A strong fall camp gave Williams an edge over redshirt freshman Adam Hine. His lack of experience, however, left Williams as the number three running back behind David Foote and Michael Alisa on the roster. Nevertheless, it was certain that Williams would not redshirt. He was going to play.

Eight games into the season, Williams isn’t just BYU’s starting running back; he is taking playing time away from others. When asked why another running back, Paul Lasike, hadn’t carried the ball the last two games, head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Williams’ play could have something to do with it.

“I don’t think you can underestimate Jamaal Williams’ role,” Mendenhall said. “I’m not sure how much you want to give to anybody else right now. He’s doing a really nice job.”

Those are strong words coming from Mendenhall, but It is hard to argue against his assessment.

Against back-to-back top 10 opponents, Williams has had over 100 all-purpose yards each game. Since Williams became the Cougars’ primary ball carrier after Alisa broke his arm early in the Hawaii game, he has averaged 123.8 all-purpose yards per game.

One week ago versus Oregon State, Williams was BYU’s biggest playmaker in the fourth quarter when BYU needed to comeback from a 28-21 deficit. He had a 30-yard reception and an 8-yard rush on BYU’s 69-yard drive that ended in a field goal to cut the deficit to 28-24. The rest of the game, BYU had just 40 yards of total offense. Williams had 31 of those yards on a pass reception.

Williams may not have his name in the scoring summary for the Notre Dame game, but BYU would not have scored its first touchdown without Williams. He had one reception and four rushes to account for 43 yards (50 including a 7-yard personal foul penalty after his final run) on the 56-yard drive.

What Williams has done the last two weeks against top 10 foes, not to mention playing in front of more than 80,000 people in South Bend, becomes even more impressive considering he is just 17-years of age.

Said Mendenhall, “I’m really impressed from just the way he’s managing the settings he’s going in, the touches he gets and how he’s running the ball. He seems confident and I think he’s on the right track.”

Williams is on track to be one of the most prolific freshmen running backs in school history. Thus far, he has 79 carries for 409 yards (5.2 average) and 5 touchdowns, as well as 17 receptions for 172 yards.

With five games to go, Harvey Unga’s redshirt freshman season in 2007 is a little out of reach for Williams. Unga had 1,227 yards rushing, 655 yards receiving, and 17 touchdowns. However, exceeding the standards set by Ronney Jenkins for true freshmen probably are not.

Williams has averaged 81.5 yards rushing the last four games. If he maintains that average for the final five games, then he will finish the season with 816 yards rushing. That is 83 more yards than Jenkins had as a freshman in 1996. At present, Williams is just 17 yards shy of Jenkins’ 189 yards receiving for all of the 1996 season.

Looking at the remaining opponents, Williams' chances look good at topping Jenkins. Just last week, Idaho surrendered 839 yards of total offense, San Jose State gave up 412, and New Mexico State conceded 516. Jenkins did score 14 touchdowns (11 rushing, 3 receiving) as a freshman, which Williams may have trouble matching. However, Williams is just one touchdown behind the six that Jenkins had through eight games.

Only time will tell whether the track that Williams is on leads him past Jenkins. At this point, however, this is a fast track with a trajectory that no one is complaining about.

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