After a slow start in South Bend during his freshman season, Kyren Williams burst on to the scene in 2020 as a steadfast running back and became a household name. Notre Dame football has been defined by great offensive line play and quality running backs, but Williams can be the best running back of the Brian Kelly Era. After a remarkable performance in the Rose Bowl against the Crimson Tide, Williams will be the Fighting Irish offense’s focal point next fall.
Williams continues to develop in South Bend
Kyren Williams took a significant step forward in his sophomore season. It is hard to believe the Irish running back went from four rushing attempts in 2019 to 211 last season. His development from year one to year two helped propel the Irish to a historic victory over Clemson and into their 2nd playoff appearance.
Lance Taylor has made a major impact with the Irish running backs. The Notre Dame running backs coach and running game coordinator has a talent for getting the most out of his position group. Taylor coached several big-name running backs at Stanford, such as Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love. He is starting to make an impact with Kyren Williams, C’Bo Flemister, and Chris Tyree.
Notre Dame is known as the best offensive line factory in the country, and with Taylor’s recruiting, who would not want to run behind the Irish Offensive front each fall?
Impressive 2020 statistics
Over 1,000 yards on the ground for Kyren Williams. Last year, the Notre Dame running back had 211 attempts for 1,125 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and 13 rushing touchdowns. His longest run of the season was for 65 yards against the Clemson Tigers in South Bend. Kyren Williams was also great in pass protection all season for the Irish and allowing Ian Book extra time in the pocket.
His greatest opportunity for improvement is in the receiving game. Last season, Williams had 35 receptions for 313 yards (8.9 yards per catch) with one receiving touchdown. His longest reception was a 75-yard screen pass against the Duke Blue Devils. The most significant area of improvement will be in his pass-catching ability moving forward. It is not a weakness, but something that will help the Irish in big games and maximize his talent in space.
Fully utilizing Kyren Williams will be crucial next season. When the Irish faced Clemson in South Bend, the Tigers were able to use Travis Etienne in various ways in their offense. Etienne had 8 catches for 57 yards, which is an area of the game Kyren Williams can expand on.
Complete performance in the Rose Bowl
Kyren Williams kept the Irish in the game. The Notre Dame tailback had 16 rushes for 64 yards on the ground with 8 receptions for 31 yards receiving. Those statistics do not jump out at first glance, but anyone who watched the football game knows those were hard-earned yards. Kyren Williams had a lot of yards after contact and helped the Irish pound their way down the field.
The running back duo with Chris Tyree will be dangerous. Kyren Williams has earned his starting spot in the Irish backfield with his running, receiving, pass blocking, and overall execution. Tyree may be one of the fastest college football players and was only a true freshman last fall.
As Chris Tyree continues to develop other areas of his game, he will take some of the burden off Williams and hopefully hit a few home runs, so the Irish do not have to rely on 15-play scoring drives.
The skill positions dominate college football. This sounds apparent, but in a sport that was controlled by physicality and dominance in the trenches, offenses have been prospering. Wide Receiver DeVonta Smith won the Heisman this season over the future #1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who was considered one of the best quarterbacks in college football history. Smith was the first wideout to win the award since Desmond Howard in 1991.
Out of all the Fighting Irish players, Kyren Williams gives Notre Dame the best shot at the award in 2021.
The Fighting Irish return a young offensive line. Brian Kelly will be losing Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks, Robert Hainsey, and Tommy Kraemer. The Notre Dame Offensive Line will return Jarrett Patterson and Zeke Correll. Both played the center position last season but expect one to move to another spot along the line.
Kyren Williams will be one of the better running backs in the country next season but will also be rushing behind an unproven offensive line. Fortunately, the Irish recruit best at the offensive line positions, but Williams will still have a major burden in 2021.
Tommy Rees must keep the offense fresh. Brian Kelly did a fantastic job of keeping the Irish running backs healthy all season. Notre Dame controlled almost all the games they played last fall and were able to get multiple running backs involved. It also was beneficial that the Irish only played ten regular-season games.
Chris Tyree must take the next step this upcoming year, so Kyren Williams does not have to be on the field the entire game. Tyree had five carries and 4 catches in the Rose Bowl, and hopefully, he can continue this momentum.
Skilled players like Kyren Williams are the difference. I do not believe Notre Dame was outmatched physically or in the trenches, and the defense played admirably. The issue is scoring points and big plays. Alabama had a running back and wide receiver in the top 5 of the Heisman voting. It is hard to compete with teams like that.
For Notre Dame to win their first major bowl game since 1993, they must continue to recruit and utilize their skill players such as Braden Lenzy, Jordan Johnson, Lawrence Keys III, Chris Tyree, and others alongside Kyren Williams in 2021.