The elusiveness of Kenny Williams has been on display for two of his biggest highlight runs this season.
Against Texas State, the Texas Tech sophomore running back, went airborne, landed on his feet and kept his backside just far enough off the ground to recover and finish off a 16-yard touchdown, a play that earned him a spot on the "top plays" segment on SportsCenter.
Late in the game against Iowa State last week, Williams appeared to be spinning to the ground, only to balance himself with one arm on the ground before popping up for a 23-yard run.
But while these shake-and-bake highlights have turned heads, it has been the sophomore’s ability to endure the play-by-play grind that has him in position to become a valuable feature back for the Red Raiders (4-0, 1-0 Big 12 Conference).
At 5-foot-9, 220 pounds, Williams is built to go through defenders as often as he goes around them, but it took him time to embrace his physical style.
“He’s got a better understanding of who he is,” said offensive coordinator Neal Brown. “He’s not a guy that’s going to go out in space and make a bunch of people miss. He’s got a much better opportunity to make people miss by running through tackles than he did a year ago.”
Initially ticketed to redshirt in 2011, Williams was pressed into action as a true freshman after Eric Stephens’ knee injury and Ronnie Daniels’ suspension, and he had some bright moments. But overall, Williams said, it took time to build confidence.
“First coming in, it was a whole new feel for me,” Williams said. “Coming in as a running back, you only think about running the ball. But you have to be effective in the pass game, and everything just had my head spinning.”
Tech quarterback Seth Doege doesn’t see the same reservations in Williams, who is likely to once again play a big role when Tech hosts Oklahoma (2-1, 0-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“He’s a big-time player,” Doege said. “So when he believes in himself and he doesn’t really question what to do, and just hits the holes full speed and downhill, he’s a really good player. That’s what I’ve noticed from last year to this year.”
Williams’ bruising style can pay more dividends as the game goes on. In the fourth quarter of the Iowa State game, consistent runs from the big back helped the Red Raiders control the clock and keep the Cyclones off the field, a development Tech coach Tommy Tuberville has been seeking since taking the job in 2010.
“He’s harder to tackle,” said Brown, who added Williams has done a better job this season of keeping his pad level low as he finishes runs. “He’s always going to fall forward, just because he’s strong. He’s bigger and stronger.”
The Red Raiders used a balanced rushing attack during the first three games, with Williams, Stephens and SaDale Foster receiving equal carries. Against the Cyclones, Williams had a team-high 15 carries, a result, Brown said, of having “the hot hand.”
Stephens and Foster bring different styles to the offense, giving Tuberville and Brown different options in the backfield depending on how the game is progressing. Tech’s 188 yards per game rushing is good enough for fifth in the Big 12.
For his part, Williams said he is fully embracing his role as a more punishing back, and he has no problems welcoming contact against an opposing linebacker.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s putting all of his elusive moves on the back burner.
“Basically,” he said, “I’m just going to do whatever it takes to get yards.”
To comment on this story:
firstname.lastname@example.org • 766-8735
email@example.com • 766-2166