Baylor will be getting several players back against Oklahoma, and while Grayland Arnold will be an enormous addition to the secondary, Terence Williams could be the most important piece to return. With JaMycal Hasty still sidelined with an injury he suffered in the first half against Liberty in week one, running back has been a big area of concern for coach Matt Rhule and the Bears (on the other hand, what position hasn’t?). The inexperience of John Lovett and Dru Dixon has been a hindrance not just in the rushing attack, but when Anu Solomon and Zach Smith have dropped back to pass as well. Williams’ experience as a pass protector, in addition to his downhill running, could be the key to making the offense operable again.
Baylor fans are familiar with Williams’ rage fueled run style. In 2016, he showed great discipline in following his blockers, making one cut, and finishing out the play. The jump cut is his best move, allowing him to shift his position quickly behind his blockers and then to burst forward into open space.
For having the reputation of a bruiser, Williams has shown excellent acceleration out of his cuts. His top end speed isn’t high enough to make him a consistent home run threat, but he has the burst to be a reliable 4-6 yard rusher if given decent blocking.
Of course, the line William’s will run behind on Saturday is not nearly the same as last season. In 2016, he could reliably follow the tackle pulling across the formation or the fullback and expect to gain 3-4 yards without much trouble. This season offers a much higher degree of difficulty. Defenders will be in the backfield much more frequently, and the line will not create the same kind of holes for Williams to run through. Williams might need to make plays like this one on a consistent basis if Baylor’s run game is to get off the ground.
That play encapsulates the best of Terence Williams’ game. He side steps the defender in the backfield, accelerates into the hole, and clobbers no fewer than three secondary players before going to the ground. This sort of toughness is precisely what Rhule loves in his players, and Williams will need every ounce of toughness he has in order to make a difference behind a very thin offensive line.
Running is not a running back’s only job, though. Frequently the position acts as a last line of defense in pass protection, picking up any pass rusher who happens to slip through or around the offensive line and tight end(s).
Last Saturday, Baylor could really have used an experience pass protector next to Zach Smith, who still has a habit of standing in the pocket too long with minimal feel for pressure. On this play, in particular, the inexperience of Lovett hurt.
Baylor is sending two players deep on the left side of the field, and the defense is playing a single high safety with man coverage. One of Tony Nicholson or Denzel Mims has a good chance to beat his man and score six on this play if Smith can deliver the ball, but the play never gets the chance to develop. Lovett doesn’t sees the linebacker coming off the edge, even though the he is crowding the line long before the ball is snapped. Lovett is too distracted by the other blitzer coming up the middle and never once moves his head to the right side until it’s too late. This isn’t to rag on Lovett, a true freshman thrust into a difficult situation far earlier than he should have been. If a more experience player had been in, though, Baylor might have had the opportunity to get the game back within reach. Instead, Smith fumbled the ball on the strip sack to seal the game for the Blue Devils.
Williams demonstrated some ability as a pass protector last season, and Baylor’s passing game will really need it. The skills Williams’ shows in these two plays will be vital for protecting Smith against a pass rush.
In the first play, Williams not only picks up a blitzer coming across the pattern, but he chips the second blitzer coming down the same side, giving Russell the chance to complete the first down pass. In the second play, Williams helps to fend off the edge rusher coming from the opposite side of the formation, enabling Russell to spring free and gain a couple of yards rather than take a first down sack. Williams demonstrates good awareness in both plays. Rhule will likely rely on that awareness a lot in the coming weeks.
Baylor’s offense has struggled to move the ball methodically in the last two games. The run game hasn’t set up the passing game, and the passing game can’t set up the run game. Williams can help in both those areas, providing reliable pass protection and barreling through whatever gap the big guys in front of him can create. Jordan Feurbacher’s return should help in both those areas as well. He and Williams will need to be in near perfect harmony to elevate this anemic offense, but that possibility is not hard to see unfolding in the next couple of games as the two get reps together.
Williams needs to be a game changer for the Bears if the season is to turn around, and luckily for them, he has just the skillset to do it.