Friday, January 01, 2010
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Williams provides billboard material

ATLANTA -- Let him heal. Then take his picture. Then slap it on a billboard.

Ryan Williams for Heisman in 2010.

Start the hype immediately. For one, he deserves it. For another, he's going to need it.

You know how ESPN always puts a picture next to its bowl promotions, typically a star player? Any guess whose picture they put up leading into Chick-fil-A Bowl?

Lane Kiffin's. As if people tune in to see a coach.

No, people tune in to see performances like Williams had Thursday night, when he took down school and conference records to help Virginia Tech thump Tennessee 37-14.

Tech's star tailback spent the fourth quarter limping along the sideline with his helmet off, looking like a man who still wanted to do so much more. But he'd already done plenty, almost single-handedly returning command to the Hokies in the second half.

Before leaving the game with a left ankle sprain late in the third quarter, Williams had piled up 117 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. He'd taken over the ACC single-season records for touchdowns (22) and rushing scores (21). He'd broken Kevin Jones' school rushing standard of 1,647, finishing with 1,655.

In other words, he'd capped the most amazing individual season by a Tech player since Michael Vick.

Like Vick was in 1999, Williams is only a redshirt freshman.

And like Vick, the Hokies likely will get only one more year of Williams before he heads to the NFL.

So start the campaign now. I'll lead the way, even though my Heisman vote for Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh this year was about as useful as a penny at Ruth's Chris Steak House. People make up their minds early for that award, for a lot of different reasons. Hype is chief among them.

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Williams needs outside help, because he won't try to sell himself off the field. Oh, if you ask him a question, he'll give you a thoughtful, interesting answer. But as far as drawing attention to his achievements, that's not him.

Still, his performances are getting hard to ignore. He eclipsed 100 yards 10 times this year. He finished among the nation's top-5 rushers. And when Tech needed him most on Thursday, when Tennessee threatened to turn this game into another Georgia Dome nightmare, Williams was at his best.

With Tech leading 17-14 to start the third quarter, Williams ran it seven straight times. Twenty-one yards. Then three. Then 32. Before he was done, he'd marched the Hokies to the Tennessee 1-yard line. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor sneaked it in, and the Hokies had some margin for error again. By the end, it was a blowout, fueled by a variety of big performances. Linebacker Lyndell Gibson played one of his best games at Tech. So did defensive tackle John Graves. Linebacker Cody Grimm took defensive MVP honors with yet another ultra-productive day.

And the offense? Well, it was fantastic. In the first 16 minutes, Taylor hit four different receivers -- Jarrett Boykin, Dyrell Roberts, Marcus Davis and Danny Coale -- for double-digit gains. After Williams got hurt, Josh Oglesby and David Wilson filled in admirably, combining for 67 yards and a score.

Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring crafted a 438-yard day against a rugged defense by doing exactly what he'd promised he would: remember what got the Hokies here.

In large part, that meant stuffing it into Williams' belly and watching him work. And we can only imagine what it'll be like seeing him combined with Darren Evans, Oglesby and Wilson next season.

Can he win the Heisman? Well, Mark Ingram won it this year. The Alabama tailback had a pretty nice day against Tennessee -- 99 yards.

Eighteen fewer than Williams had in less than three quarters Thursday.

Throw that on the billboard, too.

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