Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 25, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 16 of 55 SEPT. 25, 2017 17 After Williams' five carries for 24 yards and a touchdown against the Blue Devils — and the praise Kelly heaped on him for that performance — it looked like Williams would heavily figure into Notre Dame's plans on offense for the remainder of the season, but that was not the case. He registered only 31 carries in the team's final eight games. The opening weeks of 2017 must have felt like déjà vu for the junior. After exploding for 124 yards and a score on only six carries against Temple in the season opener Sept. 2, Williams was left scratching his head the following Saturday in a marquee matchup — and eventual 20‑19 loss — against Georgia. With his mother in the stands, the Orlando, Fla., na‑ tive did not notch a single snap on offense in the defeat. Following the loss, Kelly attributed the lack of playing time to "coach's decision" and that it "goes week to week." "He was part of the game plan last week," Kelly said the following Tues‑ day. "I know I was asked the ques‑ tion. Circumstances and the way the game was going made for a tough insertion [against Georgia's three down linemen]. It became a heavy pressure game. It was a decision that was made during the game that it didn't work at the time. "But he's got to get in the game. I made it clear to our offensive coaches that he's got to get on the field. We've got to use his talents." It all must have been a mystery to Williams, who was not made avail‑ able for interviews following Geor‑ gia. Unbeknownst to Williams after his Temple performance, he had some more waiting to do. "It was definitely something I had to learn to deal with because I felt like I was making plays and stuff, but at the same time wasn't getting enough playing time," Williams said of his 2016 experience. "I had to humble myself some more and wait for my opportunity. "That's why I say that every op‑ portunity I get, I have to take advan‑ tage of because I never know when I'll be able to touch the ball again. "Just taking advantage of my op‑ portunities is what matters." In the days leading up to the visit from the Bulldogs, the junior felt like he had turned a corner in his Irish career, and Kelly continued to laud him for his selflessness. "My biggest strides have been get‑ ting better at blocking, being able to read defenses, picking up blitzes and running the ball a lot harder and be‑ ing a better teammate," he said. "If you give me that size of a hole, it just opens everything up for me. "Just seeing those holes being made, I could tell of the progress of our offensive line and Coach [Harry] Hiestand just working with them day in and day out and seeing how they're getting better and how chem‑ istry is getting stronger, and each day just giving our all and working hard." Williams declined to say that this year 's backfield — one that Kelly has noted has NFL talent across the board — has made for the most com‑ petitive experience in terms of play‑ ing time, but he noted that being a leader has helped turn him into a more polished product in 2017. "Just bringing my teammates up when they're down and telling them to forget about a play and move on to the next play," he said. "Always giv‑ ing off energy and being that energy for my teammates. "And just being more responsible and being a leader and trying to lead by example." Fortunately for Williams, he is a regular on special teams, guarantee‑ ing him a bit of playing time even when the game plan does not call for No. 2 to get a bulk of the carries. "I definitely bought into special teams because Coach [Autry] Den‑ son always told me, 'You're not only just a running back, you have to be versatile and be able to play different positions,'" he said. "When Coach Denson left here, he was on special teams at many different NFL teams. "At first, I didn't really buy into it, but now I see how much special teams has an impact and an impact on my game. If I can go down and make a play and get the team in‑ side the 20, that's great for my team. Whatever I can do for my team, I'm willing to do." As Williams can confirm, those re‑ sponsibilities can vary from week to week. ✦ IN AND OUT Dexter Williams has provided some flash for the Irish offense, but seeing the field has been a hit-or-miss experience for him "I MADE IT CLEAR TO OUR OFFENSIVE COACHES THAT HE'S GOT TO GET ON THE FIELD. WE'VE GOT TO USE HIS TALENTS." HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY AFTER WILLIAMS DID NOT PLAY A SNAP AGAINST GEORGIA SEPT. 9 Williams rushed for a career-high 124 yards on just six carries against Temple Sept. 2, but he didn't play a single offensive snap in the 20-19 loss to Georgia the following week. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA BY ANDREW OWENS A fter a demoralizing 38‑35 loss to Duke last September that led to the firing of defensive coordinator Brian Van‑ Gorder and also demonstrated just how long the 2016 season would be for the Irish, head coach Brian Kelly singled out just one player for positive reasons. "We had one guy in the entire football team that had emo‑ tion and fire — that is Dexter Williams," Kelly said. "He's the only one. He's the only one that I saw. One guy. So, if you want to play for me moving forward … you better have some damn fire and energy in you."

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