Senior running back Jamaal Williams, after sitting out the 2015 season, is the engine powering the BYU offense this year. The Boise State defense will need a stout effort against him if they hope to avenge last season’s loss.
Williams, who withdrew from school in 2015 and took a redshirt year, is back with a vengeance this season. The Cougars are 4-3, with Williams one of the main reasons their record stands above .500.
The senior is currently second in the nation with 942 rushing yards, including a 286-yard, five-touchdown performance against Toledo. He has scored ten touchdowns, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Last week, in the Cougars double-overtime victory over Mississippi State, Williams became BYU’s all-time leading rusher. Though he only gained 76 yards on 26 carries, the attention on Williams opened up the passing game. He now has 3,468 rushing yards for his career.
Williams has seen mixed success against the Broncos over the years. In the 2014 victory by Boise State, he ran for 70 yards on 16 carries with one touchdown. The year prior, in the Cougars win, Williams had 107 yards on 21 carries.
As a freshman in 2012, Williams ran only once for six yards. He became the starter the following week, running for 155 yards against Hawaii.
The Boise State defense has had plenty of opportunities to defend the run the last two weeks. New Mexico and Colorado State combined to carry the ball 99 times for 566 yards against the Broncos.
Not exactly the most encouraging numbers, considering that’s almost six yards per carry. For these Broncos, though, much of the season has been a bend but don’t break defense, in turn holding opponents to 19.3 points per game.
Against Colorado State, 108 of their rushing yards came in the first half, in which the Boise State defense allowed only three points. On the season, the Broncos are allowing 142.3 rushing yards per game.
In Boise State’s four other games, they have allowed only 288 yards on the ground, equating to 72 to per game. This has been in large part to Boise State’s front seven and their ability to get in the backfield. Sam McCaskill has 9.5 tackles for loss this season, while Darren Lee and David Moa have six each.
Though Williams has four games with 160 or more rushing yards, he can be bottled up. Those three other games have seen Williams fail to gain 100 yards, with a season-low of 28 yards in the Cougars loss to UCLA.
UCLA has a run defense very similar to that of the Broncos. The Bruins are allowing 146.3 yards per game.
Despite the presence of Taysom Hill, the Cougars passing game has been wildly inconsistent this season. BYU is averaging 204 passing yards per game, with Hill only completing 57.1% of his passes and throwing seven picks.
This puts added pressure on Williams, considering he doesn’t contribute much in the passing game. Over his career, the running back has only 60 receptions and one touchdown. Compare that with Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols, who had 51 receptions in 2015 alone.
Focusing on and containing Williams will be high on the priority list for defensive coordinator Andy Avalos this week. If the players respond and play like they’re capable of, it should be a long evening for the Cougars senior running back.