When Ryan Williams thinks back to last season's game against Duke, a seldom-experienced sensation wells up inside his 5-foot-10, 211-pound frame.
Anger. Pure, helmet-tossing self-loathing and rage.
In Virginia Tech's 34-26 victory at Duke, Williams got his carries — 24 of them to be exact — but he produced just 83 yards. His 3.5 yards per carry represented his worst single-game production in a season that featured a Tech single-season and Atlantic Coast Conference first-year player-record 1,655 yards.
It had nothing to do with the number of carries for Williams. Instead, it was all about what he did with them – or rather failed to do. As Tech prepares for its Sept. 6 season-opener against No. 3 Boise State, Williams realizes he may be fortunate to come close to getting as many as 24 carries in most ballgames. With junior Darren Evans back in the fold for No. 10 Tech, there's going to be more competition for carries.
That's not a problem for Williams, who averaged nearly 23 carries per game last season. To him, it's just about doing his job when he gets the chance.
"I was furious," said Williams regarding the Duke game. "I was disappointed, even though I got the ball 20-plus times. … As long as I'm doing damage to the defense, I'm satisfied. You can give me five carries. If I have five carries for 15 yards each, and I get my yards per carry built up, I'll be fine."
Tech finds itself with an embarrassment of riches in the backfield. Williams and Evans, who is returning after running for 1,265 yards in 2008 before sitting out last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, lead a tailback corps that also includes a sophomore speedster pushing for playing time in David Wilson.
It's the kind of "problem" most coaches refer to as a luxury. Perhaps the only issue is finding enough carries to keep everybody happy. Then again, putting smiles on the faces of his running backs through gratuitous playing time isn't Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring's responsibility.
"I don't think you're ever looking for a perfect way for them to touch the ball," Stinespring said. "The results of the touches are more important than how many times they touch it. When you start (trying to get touches for players), you're not playing to win the game. You're not looking into the game saying 'OK, this is what's going to be good against them. This is what we're good at doing.' Now, you're just starting to think about spreading the ball around. When you start doing those things, you're getting away from the game, and it'll become more of an issue than it needs to be."
Billy Hite, who is coming into his 33rd season as Tech's running backs coach, can reference several Hokie teams of the recent past to gain a working idea of how he split up carries with other backfields that featured more than one capable back.
In '05, Cedric Humes led the team with 162 carries for 752 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Branden Ore had 109 carries for 647 yards and Mike Imoh had 106 carries for 419 yards. In '02, Lee Suggs had 257 carries for 1,325 yards and 22 touchdowns, while Kevin Jones added 160 carries for 871 yards and nine touchdowns. In 1999, Shyrone Stith ran 226 times for 1,119 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Andre Kendrick contributed with 103 carries for 645 yards.
In truth, Hite isn't concerned with how Tech did it in those seasons. The working plan this season is to use an offensive scheme that will include both Williams and Evans in the backfield at the same time on some plays. Of course, the effectiveness of such a plan will depend partially on the health of both backs, and making sure the ball isn't taken away from a player that is running strong.
"The game dictates what you're doing," Hite said. "A lot of times, when it's a tight ballgame, you're going to go with the guy that's hot at that point in time. I think the game dictates who you're playing and who's in there and who's carrying the football for you."
Evans admits he still isn't quite back to where he was in '08, but it has nothing to do with his left knee. He still applies bags of ice to his knee as many as three or four times a day to assuage swelling, but that's not an unexpected post-surgery condition.
It's the vision he's still looking to regain – the ability to see things on the field before they happen. On his left bicep, Evans has a tattoo of two skulls surrounded above and below by the words "I fear what I won't become. You fear what I will become."
Getting that on-field vision back will help Evans take a huge step toward becoming what defensive players fear, just like Williams demonstrated last season.
"I just notice a difference between ('08) and now," said Evans, who added he'd be foolish not to jump at the opportunity to head to the National Football League after this season if he has the kind of fall that puts him in position to be a first to third round draft pick. "I think what really makes me a good back is what I see. More than how fast I run, or how strong I am, I just see things. When you're away from it a while, you kind of lose that familiarity with it. I'm getting it back. I'm seeing a lot of holes that I didn't see in the spring, and I'm seeing them faster than I did in the spring."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times