PROVO — Can BYU freshman running back Jamaal Williams gather some serious added numbers in November?
And, if so, why should it matter?
Yes, Williams has a chance — in a season in which he was handicapped with little playing time in September — to become a 1,000-yard rusher.
Feather, meet cap.
Why should it matter?
Well, it is a big deal for any college running back to get 1,000 yards in a season. And BYU Novembers beg for a little something to obsess over, albeit a tough mark by a single player.
Williams needs 484 yards rushing in BYU’s final four games to reach that 1,000-yard plateau.
That is 121 yards per game against two weak defenses in Idaho and New Mexico State, and a pair of solid if not very good defenses in San Jose State and projected bowl opponent San Diego State.
He doesn’t need to turn into NCAA leader Stephan Jefferson of Nevada (149 yards per game) or No.-2 ranked Kenjon Barner of Oregon. But if he turned into Michigan State’s Lavon Bell (124 ypg), he’d get there.
Williams currently has 516 yards on 107 carries with very little work in September. It was a month his role for the Cougars was Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Williams got six carries against Washington State, three in the win over Weber State, eight against Utah and just one run attempt at Boise State. So, in that first month of the season, he gained a meager 83 yards in an offense that appeared a little cross-eyed with run, block and hike issues, injuries and QBs that battled for top rushing honors every game.
Williams’ best game this season came against defensively impaired Hawaii (15 carries for 155 yards). That Warrior team has a defense ranked in the realm of Idaho and New Mexico State.
In his last game against Georgia Tech, with a whopping 28 carries, he gained a net 107 yards.
So, Williams gained 51 percent of his season total rushing numbers against Hawaii and Georgia Tech, teams that rank 110th and 51st in the NCAA in rushing defense.
Saturday’s opponent, Idaho, ranks 98th in rushing defense, allowing 200 yards per game. Williams should get at least half of that, maybe a little more. That will get him in the 600- to 650-yard range in total yards rushing for the year.
Next up will be San Jose State — a team that is 7-2 and almost knocked off Stanford 20-17 and has only one other loss, a 49-27 setback to Utah State. Speculate that SJSU’s 35th-ranked defense, mostly against WAC opponents, limits Williams to less than a 100, probably 70 or so, he’ll have gained about 700-something. Just for fun, we’ll say he returns from that game with 725 for the season.
The Cougars then travel to New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M., for their regular-season finale against a rushing defense ranked 105th in the NCAA. NMSU gives up an average of 208 rushing yards per game. If Williams gets half that total, he’ll be in the mid-800s for the year heading into the bowl game in San Diego.
Can he gain 100-plus against Rocky Long? Probably not. He may not break 100 yards in any game for the rest of the season. After all, he’s done so just twice so far. Taking the pessimist look, he’ll fall short of 1,000.
But what if he actually does it in his remaining games?
He’ll get very close to that magical mark.
Williams gained 71 against a very good USU defense and got 64 yards against Notre Dame’s defenders that currently are ranked No. 11 in the nation. So, statistically speaking, it is possible the Cougar freshman could gain another 500 yards on the ground in his remaining games.
But how much work will he get?
Well, because BYU doesn’t pass the ball very well downfield, we’ve seen offensive coordinator Brandon Doman set up his short passing game off the run — and he’s done so very effectively. But it’s tough when defenders crowd the box, daring BYU to pass deep while covering the run, thus a challenge for Williams and Doman.
This tiny statistical category matters because its fun to speculate and, like I mentioned, this is what November has become for the Cougars when they’ve lost early and are not ranked.
Reaching the 1,000-yard mark is a big deal for BYU runners because they operate in an offense that wants to be 50-50, but are known more for just chucking it. Well, not this season.
If Williams can get to the 1,000 mark, he’ll be in the running to catch Harvey Unga, the school’s all-time career rushing leader, who gained 3,455 career net yards in just three seasons.
If the kid rushes for 1,000 yards this season, he’ll join some famous names in BYU’s barely 1,000-yard rushing club, like Lakei Heimuli (1,003), Jamal Willis (1,042) and Curtis Brown (1,123).
And that would be worth noting.
Especially when he didn’t really have a September.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].