We’re back with the another volume of our 2019 Countdown to Kickoff series! As of this Tuesday, we are 26 days out from the college football season opener for the Oklahoma Sooners! For today’s countdown topic, I want to take a look back at one of the more unsung running backs to come through Norman over the last decade. I’m talking about Damien Williams!
Hailing from San Diego, Calif., Damien Williams took the JUCO route to stardom, beginning his collegiate career at Arizona Western. There, he was recruited by Oklahoma, where he eventually signed as part of the 2012 recruiting class.
The Sooner needed a go-to running back with Dominique Whaley returning from injury, and Damien Williams quickly showed what he was capable of bringing to the backfield. In his debut against UTEP, he carried the rock 10 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. He followed up his impressive performance with another outstanding showing versus Florida A&M. With 10 more rushes, Williams went for 156 yards and four scores. Even against FCS competition, there was no denying his ability.
Williams went on to earn starts in nine of his 13 appearances in 2012, rushing for 946 yards and 11 TDs on a 5.4 average per carry. He was the only player in the FBS that season to record four runs of 65 yards or more, proving himself as a big play threat every time he touched the ball. The highlight of the season (and his OU career) was his memorable 95-yard TD against Texas.
In 2013, Williams’ struggles didn’t come on the field, but rather off of it. With only one start in nine appearances, he was dismissed from the team in November for violating team rules. He abruptly finished his Oklahoma career with 1,909 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns.
Fortunately, he was allowed to return to OU for his pro day, where he worked out for NFL scouts. Although he went undrafted in 2014, he signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent, where he played for four seasons.
In March of 2018, Williams signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, and saw his backup role elevated to starter after the team released Kareem Hunt. The talented back helped QB Pat Mahomes and KC reach the AFC Championship. Today, he’s looked at as a pivotal piece in the Chiefs’ offense.
For his five-year NFL career, Damien Williams has a total of 1,626 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns, but expect that number to go up quite a bit. Hell, with rushing a receiving yards combined, he could theoretically double that total by season’s end. Though his Sooner days didn’t reach an ideal end, he’s made up for it and then some as a professional.
Now let’s cover any days we missed since our last countdown post:
27 Days! - The OU Defense — not so far away?
When it comes to the Sooners on the national scene, the two biggest talking points over the past couple seasons have been the historically great offensive numbers and the record-low defensive performances. No program has been more of a polar opposite from itself than Oklahoma, but there’s plenty of optimism to be had if you’re looking for it.
Other than ushering in a new era under DC Alex Grinch in 2019, past results show that the difference between reaching the top tier of college football and where Oklahoma is right now is about as minimal it gets. In fact, the Sooners have scored 28 or more points in 38 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the FBS. During that span, OU’s record is 34-4, coming with three Big 12 titles, a Sugar Bowl win, and two berths into the CFP.
It’s only a coincidence, but Oklahoma lost those four games (Iowa State and Georgia in ‘17, Texas and Alabama in ‘18) by a total of 27 points. That’s less than seven points per contest, folks. The margin has been as slim as a single possession. Still, the changes that have been made were necessary, because too often Oklahoma needed to score in the 40s or 50s to win ball games.
All this is to say that if the offense continues to hum at a relatively similar pace it has since Lincoln Riley took the job in 2015, the defensive staff changes gain traction, and the recent uptick in defensive recruiting proves fruitful, there’s no reason why Oklahoma shouldn’t take that next step and join Clemson and Alabama as the elite of the elite in college football.
28 Days! - Lincoln Riley’s head coaching tenure
Following Bob Stoops’ unexpected stepping down in June of 2017, then-offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was promoted to head coach. In a month from now, the Muleshoe, TX native will turn 36 years old, still making him one of the youngest HCs in all of the FBS.
In two seasons as the lead man on the sideline, Riley has coached Oklahoma in 28 games, leading the Sooners to a 24-4 overall record. That includes two Big 12 Championship title games and two College Football Playoff semifinal berths.
Breaking down Riley’s run even further, he’s led the Sooners to a 9-0 record in the month of September, 5-2 in October, 8-0 in (Championship) November, and 2-2 in December/January postseason games. The sample size is too small to be significant right now, but it could be worth keeping track of as the years go by. Starting the regular season strong is important, but finishing strong is typically even more difficult to accomplish. Under Riley, OU appears to be trending in the right direction.
29 Days! - Brayden Willis’ 29-yard catch and rumble
As a true freshman in 2018, HB Brayden Willis played sparingly, seeing most of his reps on special teams. However, he did manage to find time on offense as well, recording a single catch for 29 yards. As you can see on this play, his natural gift for the unique position could mean more appearances this fall. Just ask the four Baylor Bears that it took to finally bring him down.
30 Days! - Kyler Murray’s 30-yard dart to Grant Calcaterra
Also coming from last season’s bout against Baylor was this spectacular throw from eventual Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray that ended with an equally spectacular reception from then-sophomore TE Grant Calcaterra. It was pretty much bad news for the Bears all day as Oklahoma’s offense lit-up the scoreboard for a season-high 66 points.
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