Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. have and will continue to be productive for the Irish, but the Irish offense will need Dexter Williams as the season progresses.
There were plenty of whispers during the off-season that Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams would be serving a four game suspension to begin the season. Brian Kelly wouldn’t go as far as to say it, but we all knew. Couple that with the dismissals of running backs CJ Holmes and Deon McIntosh, and the backfield group was always going to be relatively thin for the Irish in 2018.
However, a pair position switches for Notre Dame has helped supplement those losses.
Sophomore Jafar Armstrong has looked poised in his first four games at running back and Tony Jones Jr. is a much more confident runner than he showed at any point last season. With that said, this teams needs Dexter Williams to fill a prominent role going forward.
Williams is the most gifted and explosive runner on the Notre Dame football team, and that is something sorely missed with the departure of Josh Adams to the NFL. If the College Football Playoff is a realistic goal for this Irish team, they need Williams to produce to his capabilities.
The Best Option
Let’s start with the obvious. In only 39 rushing attempts last season, Williams ran for 360 yards — good for a fantastic 9.2 yards per carry. He is also a senior, and his knowledge of the offense and the physicality of the college game is second to none in the running back room. Sure, he’s never carried the ball more than 40 times in a season, and yes there are questions about some intangibles — run blocking being the most common talked about one — but he is a weapon the Irish will need to lean on in big games.
Make no mistake about it, I am a big believer in Armstrong’s future, Jones’ power and versatility and Avery Davis’ big play ability, but Williams offers a little bit of all these specific traits. This is something the other running backs simply don’t possess — at least not yet.
Williams is the best option to a be a workhorse back this season, and at the very least he adds another player and dimension to the offense that the Irish miss at the moment. Brian Kelly has sung the praises of Jafar Armstrong, calling him an every down player and physical runner and we’ve seen the production from the Irish running backs this season. Throw Davis in there, and the three running backs have totaled 106 carries for 549 yards and 8 touchdowns in four games without Williams. T
That’s good for nearly 5.2 yards per attempt.
However, is there room for improvement? I believe there is, and the main reason is big play ability. Several times throughout the first quarter of the season, Armstrong and Jones Jr. specifically have gashed opposing defenses for big chunks. Several times those runs could have turned into longer ones or touchdowns if Dexter Williams was the runner. Maybe with Ian Book and Notre Dame’s newfound offense this is a moot point, but Williams can help the explosiveness of this offense no matter what.
Looking Forward to Stanford
If Williams is in fact serving a four game suspension, this week against Stanford is the first game he likely sees action in. It couldn’t come at a better time. Notre Dame will be 4-0 heading into this week’s match-up against their cross country rival.
This has not only given time for Armstrong, Jones and Davis to become comfortable in their roles and for the staff to establish their strengths and weaknesses, but Williams will be fresh and healthy. He won’t be a surprise to Stanford, as they’ve seen them in the past. That said, adding a dynamic weapon five games into the season is always a welcomed commodity. I’m sure the staff hopes it works out similarly to when Kevin Stepherson returned last season. There was no denying the contribution he provided.
And Brian Kelly has already hinted at a Dexter Williams appearance on Saturday Night in South Bend. We know how Kelly usually is with these situations, so to give even the slightest bit of hope to fans that he plays this week is a good sign. Expect Williams to see touches.
Playing the Long Game
There is no denying the talent. Dexter Williams provides the Notre Dame football team with a running back option they don’t currently have in their possession. Assuming he returns this season to a prominent role, the football team will add a boost that most teams don’t get after four games. In my opinion, he is the last missing piece to this offense — the first clearly being the change from Wimbush to Book.
Williams is the piece that could transform this team from 9-3 or 10-2 to a potential College Football Playoff team. Notre Dame need Dexter Williams; plain and simple.