Rebels counting on Charles Williams to carry load as featured back

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Steve Marcus

UNLV running back Charles Williams breaks free for a 78-yard run against Arkansas State at Sam Boyd Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.

Tue, Sep 10, 2019 (2 a.m.)

UNLV couldn’t seem to do anything competently in Saturday’s 43-17 loss to Arkansas State. In particular, the offense performed so poorly that coach Tony Sanchez announced a quarterback competition immediately after the game.

About the only thing that went right for the Rebels was Charles Williams. The junior running back posted his second straight 100-yard game, and with the sudden uncertainty at the quarterback position the team may find itself counting on Williams more and more, both for his production and for his consistency.

Williams carried 19 times against Arkansas State and finished with 168 yards and a touchdown. His most explosive play was a 78-yard run that set up his own touchdown plunge one snap later.

Though it came in a loss, Williams said the Rebels’ performance on the ground should give the team confidence as they prepare to head to Northwestern this weekend.

“I feel like the running game is pretty solid, and everything is clicking together,” Williams said. “The O-line is doing what they’re supposed to do, calling their spots, and Armani is making the right reads and checks. And then also the receivers are out there making touchdown blocks, extending plays, making blocks an extra eight yards down the field. They’re doing very well working together and working as a team.”

Williams burst onto the scene in 2016 by setting a UNLV freshman record with 763 rushing yards. Injuries shortened his 2017 season (eventually turning it into a redshirt campaign), and in 2018 he was buried behind Lexington Thomas on the depth chart. Now operating as the clear No. 1 back, Williams is delivering on that freshman potential.

Through two games, Williams has run for 311 yards and four touchdowns. Most impressively, the Fresno native is averaging 9.1 yards per carry.

It won’t be easy to run wild against Northwestern. Though the Wildcats lost at Stanford in Week 1, they held a traditionally strong running team to just 3.4 yards per attempt.

There’s a good chance Williams’ workload is about to increase. The team’s preseason No. 2 back, sophomore Chad Magyar, has yet to play this year due to a personal issue. Freshman Courtney Reese is day to day with a leg injury, and sophomore Biaggio Ali Walsh is dealing with a back injury.

With the rest of the ball-carriers so banged up and the passing game missing in action, UNLV’s best chance to compete on Saturday figures to be a heavy dose of Williams.

Williams said his highest usage in a single contest was a 36-carry game as a high-schooler, and though he’s willing to tote it as often as the team needs this week, he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“If I have to take the bulk, I’ll take the bulk,” he said. “But if we can share it around, we’re going to get the ball around to our playmakers. Whatever happens, we’ve got to do whatever it is to get the win. It’s not just on me, it’s a team effort, too.”

Williams is in good enough shape to handle a high volume. After breaking off his 78-yard sprint against Arkansas State, Williams had no desire to sub out, as most teams opt to do after such long, energy-expending plays. Instead, he lined up in the backfield and took the next handoff, out-racing the defense to the pylon for the touchdown.

“I told myself I’m going to stay in and hurry back to the huddle,” Williams explained. “I tell coach Sanchez every time, I did all that track practice for moments like that. Just be ready to go. I don’t have to get subbed out and my teammates can count on me to get the job done even after a big run or a big play.”

With the way the early season has played out, they’re counting on him now.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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