Notre Dame Must Unleash Dexter Williams in 2017

© Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The struggles of the Notre Dame offense were at times exaggerated in 2016.  The Irish offense, for all of the criticism it received, still averaged 30.9 points a game in 2016 – good enough for the third most of the Kelly Era.  That said, this was an offense that could have scored more points than any of the Kelly Era.  For it to reach that level in 2017, one thing Notre Dame’s new offensive brain trust must do is unleash Dexter Williams.

When Dexter Williams touches the football, good things tend to happen.  Williams started the 2016 season on a tear.  In the first five games, Williams scored three touchdowns despite carrying the ball just 21 times.  That’s one touchdown every seven carries for those who aren’t good with math.  That’s pretty damn good.

Williams’s playmaking ability was highlighted the most by his Tecmo Bowl style touchdown run versus Syracuse.  It was’t quite full Bo Jackson, but it was pretty darn close.

That run game occurred October 1.  Over the final seven games of the season Williams recorded just 18 total carries despite the Irish offense being in need of a spark numerous times.   If Williams didn’t bust a big play within the first few precious carries he received, he wasn’t called on again by Notre Dame’s now defunct three headed offensive coaching monster.

Notre Dame barely utilized Williams in the passing game as well.  The rising junior has just four career receptions – all in 2016 – for a total of 16 yards.  That is not nearly enough opportunities for a dynamic athletic like Williams.  His run against Syracuse alone shows just ho dangerous the Florida native can be once he is open space.

Finding A Role for Dexter Williams in 2017

Notre Dame will have almost an entirely new offensive staff in 2017 with incoming offensive coordinator Chip Long (still not officially announced) and then likely new quarterbacks and wide receivers coaches.  Kelly could very well end up being the QB coach, however.  Still, there will be a lot of new ideas in the offensive coaching room.  Those new voices along with Brian Kelly, who is for better or worse the CEO of the offense, have to find a way to get Williams more involved in the offense.

Josh Adams will be the top back and could have a monster year if the staff allows him to.  Adams nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards as a sophomore despite getting just 158 carries.  Adams carried the ball more than 15 times in just two games in 2016 even though he averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the season and 6.4 for his career.  That’s an argument for another day though.  The point here is that the staff needs to find a role for Williams that compliments Adams.

Dexter Williams touched the ball 10 times on offense in just one game in 2016 – Syracuse.  Outside of the that contest, he had 8 touches vs. Nevada, six vs. NC State, five vs. Miami, and five vs. Duke.  In no other game did Williams touch the ball five times or more.

In 2017, the list of games in which Williams touches the ball less than five times should be non-existent.  Williams should touch the ball on offense at least 10 times a game next fall.  Notre Dame’s staff needs to be creative in how they get him the ball as well.  The touches Williams get shouldn’t just be the standard handoffs.  Get the kid the ball in space and let run through and around defenders like he did against Syracuse.

A Potentially Dynamic Duo

Notre Dame has the ability to have the best combination of running backs they’ve had under Brian Kelly in 2017 if they want to.  The only two running back duos that compare are Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray in 2011 and Wood and Theo Riddick in 2012.  Adams and Williams have the ability to be the best of that group if Notre Dame commits to utilizing them.  This isn’t another “run the football” rant though.  I’m not holding my breath that Brian Kelly will all of sudden discover a commitment to running the ball.  Adams and Williams, however, can impact the game running and receiving.

Next year’s running back duo compares favorably to the Gray-Wood combination.  Gray was the bigger back with top end speed while Wood was the shifty runner who needed the ball in space.  Had Gray not gone down with an injury on senior day that year, both backs could have eclipsed 1,000 yards.  I don’t expect Williams and Adams to both top 1,000 yards on the ground in 2017, but if Kelly and his new staff use Williams properly next fall, both should reach the end-zone 10 times a piece.

A Lot on the Line for Notre Dame in Citrus Bowl

All of this, however, is dependent on Kelly using both backs and not chucking the ball all over the field again next year.  With a first year starting quarterback, he shouldn’t and we have actually seen Kelly practice restraint in play-calling with first year starters before (2012, 2015).  If history repeats itself in 2017, Dexter Williams will have more than 40 carries before mid-terms.

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  1. pete calco 1 year ago

    I predict this offense is really going to go with this Chip Long running the show. He will utilize the talent totally different than Denbrock and Kelly. Look no further than Penn State. Franklin brought in a new ocoordinator and their offense averaged over 40 points a game after being terrible in 2015.

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  2. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

    Pick plays to perfection.
    Fire Saban!

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  3. bruce johnson 1 year ago

    It’s hard to have any respect for bk after having watched ala-Clemson
    It’s about hitting running running great punting guys that want it
    Our guys know it’s just a con now
    Fire swarbrick and Kelly they make me puke

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    1. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

      Fire everybody!

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    2. George 1 year ago

      I figured a 4 win season would have tipped you off.

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    3. bruce johnson 1 year ago

      Defense defense defense
      Bvg was a con man

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      1. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

        Fire Balis!

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      2. George 1 year ago

        Fire Lea

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    4. HURLS 1 year ago

      Fire fire – pants on liar. That’s how silly this is starting to sound.

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      1. George 1 year ago

        I understand the fire, but who is this disingenuous person wearing the noteworthy pants?

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  4. Michael the Archangel 1 year ago

    2017 Pre-Season Haiku

    What Frank said up there
    Last chance season for BK
    Young new staff brings hope

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    1. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

      Ha, well played.

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  5. Brad Sinclair 1 year ago

    In his first year I thought ND had a potential game buster in Adams. Last year, notwithstanding the poor and inconsistent play of the o-line, I was disappointed. I’ve noted on this blog before that he would be better characterized as a standing back rather than a running back. How many times was he handed the ball while he was in a standing position. He was far too tentative hitting the hole. A guy as big and strong as he is should be able to carry a few tacklers with him on occasion. I didn’t see that out of Adams. I have my fingers crossed that it was all the fault of the offensive line and I hope I eat crow on this one but… Joshua Adams – where’s the beast?

    Go Irish!!!!!

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    1. ChrisJ 1 year ago


      Unfortunately, our offense doesn’t suit Adams’s running style. He shouldn’t be taking hand offs standing next to the qb in shotgun. He isn’t shifty enough to find his own hole if the designed one isn’t there. However, if you line the QB up under center and let Adams get a full head of steam through the handoff, now it’s a different story. He’s a big kid and could seriously do some damage if we put him in that position to be most successful. Our offense just isn’t designed that way.

      Also, Adams was basically playing injured for the first half of the season. Towards the end of the year you could really see a big difference in the way he was running from the first half. Between him and Williams, it should be a decent 1/2 punch.

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  6. MHR 1 year ago

    Offensive line in 2016 was a disaster and did not live up to any of the hype….until they can run block and give us the ability to establish a run game, we will struggle. Wimbush will also have to run the ball and execute the read option…can’t get conservative because of lack of QB depth. Defense will always be a weakness until we can demonstrate we can recruit defense. We have the running back talent and teh receiver talent…..need to black and defend….need to get tough ala Jim Harbaugh.

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  7. Shazamrock 1 year ago

    By my count, and barring transfers, injuries, or players who choose to discontinue their college careers, there will be 5 returning senior o-linemen, 3 who will return as Juniors, and 3 possible 5th year seniors.

    That’s 11 upper classmen at the o-line not to mention 3 highly touted Soph’s

    Returning Seniors:
    Sam Mustipher 310 Sr.
    Quenton Nelson 325 Sr.
    Jimmy Byrne 300 Sr.
    Sam Bush 305 Sr.
    Alex Bars 320 Sr.

    Returning Juniors:
    Tristen Hodge 310 Jr.
    Trevor Ruhland 300 Jr.
    Logan Plantz 310 Jr.

    Returning Soph’s:
    Liam Eichenburg 280 So.
    Parker Boudreaux 295 So.
    Tommy Kraemer 315 So.

    Possible 5th yrs.:
    Mike McGlinchy 310 5th yr.?
    Colin McGovern 310 5th yr.?
    Bevin Hunter 308 5th yr.?

    Running Backs
    Josh Adams (Junior)
    Dexter Williams (Junior)
    Tony Jones (Soph.)
    Justin Brent (Sr.)
    Tarean Folston (Possible 5th yr?)

    Truth be told, with all this talent, experience, and potential, this offense should be one of the top
    rushing teams in the entire country.

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  8. Peter S Murutz 1 year ago

    As long as Brian Kelly is interested in his spread offense pass only mentality, Dexter Williams and any other top back will be handcuffed ,and not see their total potential achieved. Harry Heistand needs to light a fire under his overrated o-line, also. Not hiring a new head coach is poison for this program as it lingers below mediocrity.

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  9. bruce johnson 1 year ago

    No real progress until Kelly and his master swarbrick are gone

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    1. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

      Fire Chip!

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    2. Ron 1 year ago


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    3. George 1 year ago

      Just go hire the best AD on the planet. It’s simple.

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  10. George 1 year ago

    So long Paulson

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  11. Rich M 1 year ago

    The two of them in the same backfield could be dynamic if the new offensive coordinator has any kind of imagination. On the other hand you don’t need much imagination to know that you have to give the ball to one of those horses. if Wimbush takes over as QB the Irish should be in for an exciting offensive year.
    But again the defense above all other things needs to see a vast improvement to make the Irish relevant next year. Hey, they averaged 30 + pts. a game and ended 4-8 that should tell you were the problems really were. Yes, all you geniuses out there, the defense was horrid. If they don’t show improvement there it will be another debacle and Kelly’s reign will be over! GO ND!

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  12. SubwayAlum 1 year ago

    Two steps to a top 4 finish.

    Step 1. Defense: a fierce pass rush. Starts with recruiting specifically for that.
    Step 2. Offense: a better OL. Starts with sacking Harry Heistand.

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    1. George 1 year ago

      ND just needs a few five star recruits. Those are pretty easy to come by. Its only been five years.

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  13. ChrisJ 1 year ago

    I remember this play but watching it again closely just made me realize the speed that Williams has. I know Syracuse was way out of position by overpursuing here but he still beat all of the defensive backs on the Cuse team to the corner and ran by and away from them with ease. I agree that Williams should see the ball much more this year. I thought Folston had the best vision of all our backs but the lack of speed didn’t allow him to make plays like Williams can. So I’m kinda glad Folston is out of the way and we have two gamebreaking RBs in the backfield getting all the reps this year.

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    1. Ray 1 year ago

      He is not that fast. It is easy to look fairly fast when over pursued. Josh Adams is way better.

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      1. ChrisJ 1 year ago

        Sorry Ray but Adams isn’t as shifty as Williams and I bet Williams even has slightly faster top end speed. I saw Adams almost get run down by a VTECH defender after he broke far away from them. I’d like to see Williams break one and see if he leaves the pack behind.

        Adams could be better outright if we ran an offense that fit his running style.

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  14. Jack 1 year ago

    Kelly wanted to run the ball more, but the oline sucked at run blocking. Get the oline to run block and the backs will make plays.

    Also, they played from behind most of the year which caused them to throw more. Hopefully with a better defense they won’t be two scores down and in a track meet every game.

    Finally, I am glad Kelly is going with people who haven’t worked for him prior. More “No” people and less Yes man will hopefully go better. That being said I see an 8-4 year, but I think he beats one of the following teams, USC, Georgia or NC. They will not beat all three. Next year’s schedule is brutal

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  15. Larry Crosby 1 year ago

    Love this site

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  16. Mike "King" Kelly 1 year ago

    Dexter looks pretyy out there , is just another finesse runner, We need a guy who can run over people like Jim Brown , Jerome Bettis, they ran north to south.

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