A couple weeks ago the big news for Notre Dame football was the emergence of Kyren Williams at running back. After saving a year of eligibility last fall, he was sort of the forgotten man in the backfield. Well, he is the forgotten man no more after an impressive starting debut that has already grabbed the attention of at least one NFL Draft expert.
ESPN’s Todd McShay took note of Notre Dame’s new starting running back on Saturday during Notre Dame’s 27-13 victory over Duke to start the 2020 season.
Williams hauled in just passes yesterday, but they covered 93 yards. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book had Williams all set up for another long screen in the fourth quarter too, but misfired. Williams had a convoy of blockers with just two Duke defenders in sight. It could have been another 50+ yard gain. Maybe more.
Williams also ran the ball 19 times for 112 yards. Those numbers look more impressive when you take into account the slow start the Notre Dame running attack got off to yesterday. By the second half, Williams was picking up yards that we didn’t see Notre Dame running backs get last year with his feel for the position and vision.
It’s interesting that McShay just focused on Williams’s receiving skills without mentioning his running as well, but it’s remarkable to see the rapid development of Williams in such a short time. Williams went from playing in less than four games as a frosh to starting running back to grabbing the attention of a draft expert like McShay in one off-season. And he did it without spring practice.
While McShay noted that Williams was a willing enough pass blocker, that is also an area that he’ll need a bit more work on. As One Foot Down’s Jude Seymour pointed out on Twitter, Williams got the rough end of a few of his blocks.
Growing pains in pass protection should be expected from someone making their first career start though. What was clear from the get-go yesterday was that Notre Dame wanted to get Williams going early. It was also clear that Duke wanted to shut down the Notre Dame running game. With Notre Dame’s receiving corps as banged up as it is right now after Braden Lenzy and Bennett Skowronek joined Kevin Austin on the injury report – it made sense to try and pound the ball. It took a little while for that approach to work, but by the end of the game, Williams had over 200 scrimmage yards and scored two touchdowns.
Over the final seven games of 2019, Notre Dame running backs had just a single 100-yard rusher – Tony Jones Jr in the Camping World Bowl – and Ian Book led the Irish in rushing in seven of those contests. Hopefully, Williams’s impressive debut is a sign of things to come and he keeps grabbing the attention of people like McShay for the next few years. Remember, Williams is still just a freshman eligibility wise.