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Kyren Williams lights up Irish offense

| Monday, September 14, 2020

At the risk of making a premature declaration one game into the season, it’s time to welcome Kyren Williams to the big leagues. One-hundred-twelve rushing yards, 93 receiving yards and two touchdowns on a day when the Irish offense struggled to find its mojo for much of the game, Williams was their answer time and time again.

Throughout the offseason and training camp, head coach Brian Kelly and graduate student quarterback Ian Book have repeatedly spoke of William’s unique skillset and what a valuable asset he is to the program.

“He’s the same guy every day,” Book said. “In Fall camp he truly, he brings the energy every day. So when you go out onto the field on game day, he’s doing the same thing, and that’s what it’s all about. … Personally, to be in the backfield with him I just feel comfortable. He’s someone that helps motivate me and I do that for him.”

Hayden Adams | The Observer
Irish sophomore running back Kyren Williams, back, tries to find the right perimeter during Notre Dame’s 27-13 victory over Duke on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

The sophomore from St. Louis saw action in the first four games of last season and then preserved his eligibility as he gained experience behind a lineup of Tony Jones Jr., Jahmir Smith, C’Bo Flemister and Jafar Armstrong. If Saturday’s showing was any indication of things to come, it’s fair to say that extra year of preparation and mentorship made all the difference. Williams had his way against the Duke defense, pummeling through the line of scrimmage and extending plays with craft.

Perhaps it was the new game experience or just first-game jitters, but the Irish offense came out of the gate rusty. An entire opening quarter with no first downs, Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was starting to look unprepared for this new responsibility. And then Williams happened.

Two short rushes and an 11-yard gain by Williams followed by a Duke penalty set the Irish up for first-and-goal. While Armstrong brought them to the goal line, Williams was the go-to guy to punch it in. He recorded another touchdown midway through the third quarter, finding a gap along the left sideline and picking up 26 yards straight into the end zone.

Perhaps Williams most electrifying play was one that didn’t even result in points. In the closing minutes of the first half, Book hit Williams off a tunnel screen. He dodged several defenders and was off to the races, gaining 75 yards before eventually being brought down at the 11-yard line. While Book through a goal-line interception the next play, Irish fans got a glimpse of the dual-threat Williams could pose for opponents.

Following the game, Kelly said he was pleased with William’s performance but has even higher expectations for him going forward.

“Well, he did something that hadn’t been done here in 25 years, so from that perspective … receiving yards over 90, rushing yards over 90,” Kelly said. “… There’s a number of run reads and blitz pickups and things of that nature that he’s going to get a great learning curve from, but obviously a really good day.”

Williams repeatedly demonstrated a dangerous combination of speed, power and high football IQ. He showed no signs of inexperience and let that confidence spill into his sideline celebration. Simply put, he had swagger — and that was with a lackluster performance by the offense as a whole. Imagine several weeks from now as the team starts to find their rhythm, Kyren Williams just might become every team’s nightmare.

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