PROVO — BYU freshman Jamaal Williams’ coming-out party Friday against Hawaii may have been unplanned, but it was far from uneventful.
The running back raced and rammed his way to 155 rushing yards and two touchdowns after being pressed into full-time duty when starter Michael Alisa suffered a fractured forearm in the first quarter.
With his prolific production against the Warriors, Williams became the first freshman Cougar to eclipse 150 rushing yards in a game since Harvey Unga achieved the feat twice in 2007.
Entering the contest against Hawaii, Williams had 83 rushing yards and one touchdown through his first four college games.
“(Williams) has this great vision, and he’s a really great athlete,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I think we’ve seen that in the touches that he’s had up to this point — he just hasn’t been the featured back because of Mike Alisa.”
By halftime Friday Williams had already gouged the Warriors for 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Then the second half began with a bang.
On his first carry of the third quarter, Williams took the handoff near Hawaii’s goal line and raced toward left tackle. Although no Warrior defender stood between him and the end zone, the play took an unexpected turn when the hard-charging running back inadvertently slammed into teammate Devin Mahina at the 2-yard line.
The collision slowed down Williams enough for two Hawaii defenders to latch onto his lower body. But he kept his legs churning, and after Mahina started pulling him forward Williams steadily dragged the pair of Warriors into the end zone.
All in all, Williams got a big opportunity because Alisa went down injured.
On the game’s opening drive the junior running back Alisa carried the ball twice, with his second rush bringing BYU’s offense to Hawaii’s 2-yard line. But that was the last time Alisa would touch the ball all night — he broke both bones in his forearm — and on the very next play Williams parlayed his first carry of the night into a touchdown.
In addition to his rushing output, Williams also caught two passes for 30 yards. Along with the rest of the first-string offense, he sat out the entire fourth quarter.
Despite Williams’ success against Hawaii, Mendenhall cautioned that the freshman still must prove himself to be a durable running back.
“(Jamaal) is not a power back, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield and I think his elusiveness and his speed are very helpful,” Mendenhall said. “This is a nice start for him, but before we get too far (onto) the Jamaal bandwagon, we’ll see now as he touches it more and more against stiffer competition how he’ll handle it.”
J.G. Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-236-6051.