BLACKSBURG—After Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee three weeks before the start of the season, Evans made a bold prediction about redshirt freshman Ryan Williams.
Evans was sure Williams had a shot at breaking the school's freshman record for touchdowns, the same record Evans set last season with 11. Of course, Evans also ran for a school freshman-record 1,265 yards last season.
If Williams eclipses 1,108 yards, he'll join Evans as the only two first-year backs from the same school in the history of the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A, to have that many rushing yards in back-to-back seasons.
Impressive numbers? Absolutely. Yet, there doesn't seem to be enough motivation in statistical pursuits to move Williams. His reaction to Evans' touchdowns prediction tells you all you need to know about Williams' mindset regarding records coming into the season.
"I laughed," Williams said. "I really didn't think the season would go as it's going right now. I really didn't say, 'Yeah, I want to (break the freshman touchdowns record),' or anything like that. I try not to chase anything. I never really try to chase any goals or chase any numbers or anything of that sort, because when you start thinking that way or playing that way, you tend to lose focus. You start thinking more about yourself and really not what's important, and that's the team."
Even if Williams lets on that records don't do much for his ego, it's clear he's about to arrive in a rare stratosphere in terms of freshman running-back production. In the history of the FBS, there have been just 87 freshmen to rush for 1,000 yards or more, including Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis (1,029 yards) this season.
Only twice has a school produced 1,000-yard freshman runners in back-to-back seasons — Nevada with Chance Kretschmer (1,732) in 2001 and Matt Milton (1,108) in '02, and Texas Christian with Lonta Hobbs (1,029) in '02 and Robert Merrill (1,107) in '03. In '04, Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson set the FBS freshman record for rushing yards with 1,925.
Williams has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of his first seven college games, helping him become ACC rookie of the week five times. Though he'd likely have to produce at an even better rate than his current ACC-leading 119 yards-per-game pace, he has an outside shot of catching Kevin Jones for Tech's single-season rushing record of 1,647 yards, a record set in the '03 season.
In Virginia Tech's 28-23 loss at Georgia Tech on Oct. 17, Williams ran 14 times for 100 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 22 yards and a touchdown despite playing with an illness.
"I think it made a statement," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said regarding Williams' performance against Georgia Tech. "When you're not feeling well, and you don't feel like you've got your strength being at a position like running back, to get in there and get done what he got done probably says a lot about him."
Williams said he didn't start feeling like himself until two days after the Georgia Tech game. By that time, he'd lost almost nine pounds.
"It's the first time I weighed in the 190s since my junior year of high school," said Williams, who added he's back up to 203 pounds, and that he took intravenous fluids for a few days and before the Georgia Tech game while he was sick.
One of the more distinctive characteristics of Williams' running style is what Virginia Tech running-backs coach Billy Hite described in the preseason as a run-to-daylight instinct. Though Williams' on-field moves may qualify as unpredictable, his running has relieved a lot of the run-blocking pressure from Tech's offensive line.
"I think it's easier because he's a special back," said left tackle Ed Wang, who has helped Tech achieve the 17th-best rushing offense in the nation this season (204 yards per game). "You never know when he could go. He just needs a little hole and he could bust for a big play, so I think it makes our job a little easier having him in the backfield."
Next gameWHO: North Carolina (4-3, 0-3 ACC) at No. 14 Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1).
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
On Page 3•Beamer clarifies chop-blocking remarks.
• U.Va. has been successful against Duke QB Lewis.