FSU RB Karlos Williams’ first college carry was simple enough.
A toss to the right resulted in a 65-yard touchdown in the third quarter against Nevada last season. The blocking was precise, but Williams was electric. He effortlessly burst through the crease in front of him and went untouched for the score.
The one play exemplifies Williams’ raw potential. The speed, the power, the fluidity. All these factors combined give FSU fans hope that Williams is ready to step into his role as the Seminoles’ feature back in 2014.
At a first glance, Williams has given off every indication that he is ready to have a breakout year. First there’s the physical skill set, which rivals that of any running back in FSU’s recent history. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, a runner shouldn’t be able to move as gracefully or accelerate like he does.
Then there’s the production: 731 rushing yards on 91 carries and 11 touchdowns. Williams averaged a touchdown every 8.2 times for every carry and averaged 8 yards per run. If he had that production with the amount of carries feature back Devonta Freeman had last year (173), Williams would have had 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. No FSU back has ever surpassed 1,250 rushing yards.
There is a common belief that those numbers will be obtainable for Williams, which is understandable when watching the way he blends speed and power.
But it should be far from a foregone conclusion that Williams will burst into FSU’s record books with ease in 2014. Williams, who moved from safety to running back at the beginning of last season, had the luxury of beating up on winded defenses most of last season and emerged as a goal-line specialist. He did not become a consistent part of FSU’s true running rotation until later in the year, making it difficult to project what he is fully capable of. Is Williams talented enough to become an elite back? Absolutely. But can he continue his domination while taking the physical toll that comes with being an every-down runner? And how will he do when facing fresh starting defenders? Those variables are not as easy to account for.
Being a feature back means a runner will be called upon to get a majority of the carries from the game’s onset. Elite feature backs get better as the game goes on as they wear down defenses.
With that in mind, there are two important factors to consider that will prove useful when projecting Williams’ production in 2014: 1.) How did Williams do when facing defenses on the same level as him in terms of fatigue? 2.) How did Williams do when being used as more than a rotational back?
Williams is largely unproven in both regards. He has willingly admitted that he had the luxury of entering games fresh after Freeman and James Wilder Jr. usually softened up defenses, but he is also quick to point out that he did get important carries against Duke in the ACC Championship Game and against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.
Simply put, Williams did not have many meaningful carries last year. Because of that, it’s not easy to judge how he will handle the responsibility of shouldering an offense or coming up with tough runs when needed.
It would be easy to see what Williams did against starting defenses if measuring just his first-half carries, but Williams has a frustratingly small sample size in this case. Especially in the first quarter, in which he ran the ball five times for 20 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, Freeman had 56 attempts in the first quarter – 32 percent of his total carries – and ran for 370 yards (6.61 YPC) and 5 touchdowns.
To get a clear idea of what Williams did when having more of a feature role, we begin by eliminating carries in which Williams does not enter the game until the second half. Already, that takes away games against Nevada (110 rushing yards and 1 TD on 8 carries), Bethune-Cookman (83 rushing yards, 2 TDs on 9 carries), Boston College (22 rushing yards, 1 TD on 6 carries), Clemson (19 rushing yards on 3 carries), Syracuse (78 rushing yards on 4 carries) and Florida (14 yards on 4 carries).
So that puts Williams at 404 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on 57 carries. Those numbers are still significant, putting Williams on pace to rush for 1,226 yards (7.08 YPC) if he gets the same amount of carries Freeman had last year.
On a related note, let’s see what Williams does in close games: This is an important trait in a feature back, because establishing a strong run game can establish or shift momentum. For instance, Freeman was at his best when the score was tied or FSU was up by 14 points or less: 543 yards and 8 TDs on 81 carries (6.7 YPC).
Williams has 83 rushing yards and 4 TDs on 17 carries (4.88 YPC) when FSU was up by 14 points or less. Again, a small sample size hurts a true analysis, but his yard per carry average takes a significant dip, although his touchdown-to-carry ratio skyrockets to 1:4.25. Both the drop in yards per carry and the increase of scores per carry are a direct result of him running the ball in the red zone on nearly half (47 percent) of those carries. The sample size still makes it difficult to get a read on just how effective he is when getting meaningful carries.
What we can deduce, however, is that Williams did come through when given the opportunity. He scored touchdowns effectively in the red zone and played well in games where he was touching the ball early. In fact, he outperformed both Freeman and James Wilder Jr. when it came to scoring in the red zone.
FSU Running Back Red Zone Efficiency
James Wilder Jr.
Carries Inside Red Zone
RZ TD % per carry
Running Against Top Competition
Yet again, we are dealing with a small sample size here.
FSU did not play in many close games and did not play many talented teams, but Williams did some of his best running when it mattered most.
Let’s take a close look at how he did in games against Boston College, Duke and Auburn; those three opponents gave FSU its most difficult games of the season, either in terms of score (Boston College), physicality (Duke), or both (Auburn).
Williams vs. Boston College
Stats: 6 carries, 22 yards (3.7 YPC), 1 TD
A closer look: Williams did not touch the ball much this game, but he churned out some big carries when it mattered. With FSU ahead 31-20 in the third quarter, Williams became the go-to option as the Seminoles crossed into the red zone. He picked up five yards on 1st and 10, making the proper read on a stretch play to the right. A Boston College defender hit him about two yards from the line of scrimmage and Williams pushed forward for an extra couple of yards. He then gained 10 yards the following play to give FSU a first down on Boston College’s one-yard line. Williams picked up about an extra three or four yards after first contact on the dive play.
Williams fell short of passing the pylon on the next play, getting stopped for no gain as he was met at the line of scrimmage. He pushed forward from one yard out on the next play to score, putting FSU ahead 38-20.
Takeaway: In this particular series, Williams had four carries for 16 yards, but three of those runs were successful. Being able to record a few tough carries to put a desperate team away was a big step forward early in Williams’ development.
Williams vs. Duke
Stats: 7 carries, 55 yards (7.9 YPC), 1 TD
A closer look: Williams’ first carry of the game came in the second quarter with FSU ahead 7-0. In the Pony set with Freeman, Williams followed his lead block to the right side and ended the 12-yard touchdown run by effortlessly pushing a Duke defender into the air with his forearm. …Williams had another 12-yard run in the second quarter, this one coming off of what looked to be a read option with Winston. Great blocking up front made the run easy for Williams, who exhibited nice vision and finished the run by falling forward for a couple extra yards. …Aside from a nine-yard run for a first down early in the third quarter, the rest of Williams’ runs came with the game out of hand.
Takeaway: This was arguably Williams’ most complete game and best exhibits what he’s capable of as a feature back, although he still was used mostly in spurts. Six of his seven runs were successful, with five either going for first downs or touchdowns.
Williams vs. Auburn
Stats: 5 carries, 25 yards (5 YPC)
A closer look: Williams made his mark on one of FSU’s most important drives of the year. Trailing 21-3 late in the first half, Williams had back-to-back successful runs of five and six yards, respectively. Rashad Greene dropped a pass on third down, setting up 4th and 4. The next play may have saved FSU’s season. The Seminoles attempted a fake punt, with Williams taking a reverse to the sideline for a gain of seven yards. His speed caught Auburn off guard and the new set of downs allowed FSU to keep the drive alive. FSU drove down the field and scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-10 right before halftime.
Takeaway: Those three carries show what Williams can do to change games. Sure, he has the ability to breakaway on long runs, but he can also take plays that should go for one or two yards and turn them into gains of five or six yards. That sets up more manageable downs and made the fourth-down attempt possible.
Projecting what Williams will do in a bigger role based purely on stats is next to impossible. He simply did not have enough meaningful carries to get an accurate idea of what he’s capable of when getting the ball 15-20 times in a game that he starts.
However, there is some indication that Williams will continue to run at a high level when given more carries. There’s the production in contests where he played early (404 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on 57 carries) and games in which he touched the ball 10 times or more (averaged 83 rushing yards, 7.1 YPC and 1.3 TDs in 3 games) to flash signs of what he can do.
Factors like fatigue or injury are ultimately impossible to account for. There should not be an assumption that Williams is going to get to 1,200 yards with ease, but his body of work from last year points to him remaining productive with a larger role in 2014.