Thursday, December 22, 2016
Mississippi State University's football team is playing in a bowl game for a school-record seventh consecutive time for two reasons: The first is that the Bulldogs have earned a high enough academic progress rate to qualify for a bowl as a 5-7 team; the second is having a potent rushing attack to carry them. MSU ranks 24th in the nation and fourth in the SEC as a team in rushing, averaging 233 yards per game.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald leads the team with 1,243 yards rushing, but late in the season, sophomore running back Aeris Williams provided a spark in two key wins.
Williams' career high for rushing yards in a game entering this season was 46 yards, and he rushed for just 206 yards with three touchdowns as a redshirted freshman.
The West Point, Miss., native started the season slowly and saw limited action. He made 67 yards on 15 carries in the team's first five games. His biggest early breakthrough was an 82-yard effort on the ground on 21 carries in an overtime loss to Brigham Young University on Oct. 14.
Williams went back to getting limited touches in games against the University of Kentucky and Samford University in the weeks after. He had just 16 carries for 57 yards in MSU's loss to Wildcats and its win against the overmatched Samford.
Against Texas A&M University on Nov. 5, Williams had one of his best games as a college football player, receiving 24 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown as the Bulldogs shocked the Aggies for a 35-28 win.
The 6-foot, 1-inch, 217-pound running back had solid but not outstanding games against the University of Alabama and the University of Arkansas later that month. He rushed for 56 yards on 11 carries against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense and for 63 yards on 13 carries against the Razorbacks.
In the Egg Bowl on Nov. 26, both MSU and the University of Mississippi needed to win to have any shot at a bowl game. Williams reached a new career high when he rushed for 191 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns in the 55-20 win over the Rebels.
Williams is the second-place rusher on the team with 656 yards and four touchdowns on 125 carries. He is fifth on the team in scoring with 24 points, second in total offense with 656 yards, and fourth in all-purpose yards with 677 yards.
Here is a standout statistic about Williams' running ability: He lost just 11 yards during his 125 rushing carries. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, lost 188 yards and carried the ball 177 times during the season.
One area in which Williams' game needs work is in pass reception. He caught just six passes for 21 yards for 10th place on the team.
While he was at West Point High School, ESPN.com, Scout.com and 247sports listed Williams as a four-star recruit, and Yahoo.com listed him as a three-star recruit. He ranked 42nd in the nation for running backs and the 11th in the state of Mississippi.
As a high school senior in 2013, Williams was the Mississippi Coaches Association's 5A Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,697 yards and 21 touchdowns on 265 carries.
Williams played in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game and earned a nomination for the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He finished his high-school career with 3,994 rushing yards. The MSU running back was redshirted during his true freshman season of 2014.
All of this is surprising considering there was a point at which he thought he may never play sports. At age 2, a car hit him, breaking three bones in his legs, while he was running across the street to his mother during a house fire. Doctors said Williams would never be able to engage in athletics.
Not only was Williams able to play sports but he is also turning into one of best offensive weapons for the Bulldogs. MSU fans should be happy knowing that Fitzgerald and Williams will be returning next season.
Miami University from Ohio must figure out a way to stop the duo's one-two punch in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Fans can watch the game at 11 a.m., Monday, Dec. 26, on ESPN.