Notre Dame Football: Can Dexter Williams Emerge as Top Dog in Irish Backfield?

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 23: Dexter Williams
EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 23: Dexter Williams /

Does Dexter Williams have what it takes to become the lead back Notre Dame football needs in 2018?

Under offensive coordinator Chip Long, Notre Dame’s offense had a resurgence in its rushing attack last season. Before struggling with injuries down the stretch, Josh Adams had thrust himself to the top of the Heisman race. In front of him was a tremendous offensive line. Behind him was the entire Notre Dame fanbase.

Adams will not be returning to the Irish backfield in 2018. The Irish have a few options with how they will fill the void, but which Irish back will take the reigns as the feature back this upcoming season?

The Irish have multiple experienced backs who will combine to fill the void Adams has left. Behind Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame’s next-leading rusher in terms of carries (65) was Deon McIntosh. McIntosh, however, was dismissed from the team this offseason. Behind McIntosh was Tony Jones, Jr. (44) and Dexter Williams (39).

Of the remaining running backs, the one that seems to have the most upside is Dexter Williams, who — with limited opportunities — found a way to average over 9 yards per carry last season.

Basically, whatever Williams touched turned to gold.

Williams’ success comes from an aggressive running style. His best runs come when he is able to get downhill fast and then out-run defenders in the open field. Williams’ style isn’t the most patient in the world, but his aggressiveness makes him a difficult back to stop behind the line of scrimmage. His speed and quick decision-making in the hole is demonstrated here in Notre Dame’s 2017 spring game:

His reckless running style is a bit different than the style of Josh Adams, who was and is a more patient runner. While Williams can be classified as a one-cut runner, Adams can be classified as more of a change-of-pace runner who utilizes varying speeds to gain an edge on his opponents. Williams has one speed: fast. That speed should be something the Irish can utilize more next season.

But while Williams is a talented downhill runner, he is not the most complete back. Throughout the season, it was clear that, when Adams was out, the Irish trusted Tony Jones, Jr. more than Williams in passing situations. They were right to do so.

In limited carries, Williams showed what he can do: get down hill and fast. He also showed that he left much to be desired in the passing game. Most notably, this was shown in Notre Dame’s victory in the Citrus Bowl.

With the Irish trailing 14-6 in the 4th quarter, Williams entered the game. Immediately, he proved his worth, rattling off runs of 5 and 31 yards consecutively. On the next play, the Irish attempted a play action pass, with Williams missing a crucial block, resulting in a 13-yard loss after Ian Book was called for intentional grounding.

Ultimately, the penalty never ended up hurting the Irish, but it took a heroic 3rd-and-19 throw from Book to Miles Boykin for the drive to survive and for the Irish to eventually tie the game.

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While Williams is a tantalizing runner, he also may make the Irish one-dimensional with his deficiencies pass blocking. That, along with his health, have been the major limiters in Williams’ career. If he is able to improve and stay healthy, he will be a major cog in the Irish backfield in 2018.