Steve Addazio arrived at Boston College all passion and fire, promising one and all his team would pound the football.
This all sounded wonderful to running back Andre Williams, finally a starter going into his final season. But not even Williams imagined he would be sitting on the threshold of a 2,000-yard season with two games to go, not only the leading rusher in the nation but somebody undoubtedly worthy of Heisman consideration.
“I was really just fighting for the first downs, and I haven’t been able to accomplish that since I’ve been here at BC,” Williams said in a phone interview. “It’s great that I have this opportunity in front of me now.”
Williams shrugs off any suggestion he is the best rusher in the nation, or somebody worthy of sitting at the Heisman ceremony in New York in December. That simply is not his style. But considering his transformation from injury-prone backup to bull-rushing behemoth, it is worth taking a look at where his accomplishments this year fit in the national picture.
For one, Williams is leading the country in every major rushing category -- total yards gained (1,810), carries (288), rushing yards per game (181), 20-yard rushes (20) and 200-yard games (four). The next closest rusher -- Kapri Bibbs of Colorado State -- has 1,439 yards. Williams not only grounds out the tough yards, he bursts through holes with quickness and speed. He is big (6-foot, 227 pounds) but he is fast, too.
Perhaps more impressive is how much he means to the Boston College offense. His 1,810 yards account for 49 percent of the Eagles’ total offensive yardage on the season.
To compare against some of the more well-known backs at power programs, that is significantly more than Bishop Sankey at Washington (27 percent), Ka’Deem Carey at Arizona (30 percent), Ameer Abdullah at Nebraska (30 percent) and Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin (24 percent). These players also rank in the Top 10 in the NCAA in rushing.
Now consider that teams are specifically game-planning to slow down Williams. That makes the last two weeks he’s had even more jaw dropping. Despite facing eight- and nine-man boxes, Williams has run for a combined 634 yards and four touchdowns, setting the school and ACC single-game record with 339 yards last week against NC State.
“The defenses are definitely scheming up our run game, they know we're a physical power run game and they like to load up the box, but the coaches do a great job doing a lot of window dressing in order to manipulate the defense and throw a shadow of doubt in how they line up,” Williams said.
“As the game wears on, the defense, they don't want to line up against us again and again because it’s not like we’re running different things, they know what’s coming. But our o-line is able to toss people around in the third and fourth quarter, and we use that to our advantage.”
This is virtually the same offensive line that struggled to open up holes one season ago. BC finished as one of the worst rushing offenses in the country, ranking No. 115 with an average of 90.9 yards per game. Three veterans are back from last season, and the entire line has a combined 117 career starts.
So the offensive line has transformed itself, too, under Addazio.
“They have a real mean streak. They wear teams down, they're physical, they throw guys,” Williams said. “We just really own our identity. When you know your identity and the role you're playing it gives you confidence going out on the field to do what we know we're capable of.”
There have only been 15 players to run for 2,000 or more yards in a season on the FBS level. UConn back Donald Brown was the last to do it, in 2008. Of those 15, only four did not finish in the Top 10 in Heisman balloting. Five ended up winning the Heisman.
Granted, a 6-4 BC team is not going to hold much sway for Williams. He only got two votes in the latest ESPN.com Heisman Watch, including a fourth-place vote from me. But Troy Davis finished No. 2 in the Heisman race in 1996 on a 2-9 team, and No. 5 in 1995 on a 3-8 team. Heisman standards, however, have changed since then.
Players on Top 10 teams generally get the most consideration. And there may be people across the country still unfamiliar with what Williams has done. That is their loss.
Williams has a chance to put together one of the best rushing seasons in college football history. It is time everybody started paying attention.