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A-Train rolls again as Bulldogs pound Cougars

 

Mississippi State running back Aeris Williams, a former standout at West Point High School, had 23 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown Saturday against BYU.

Mississippi State running back Aeris Williams, a former standout at West Point High School, had 23 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown Saturday against BYU. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch  Buy this photo.

 

Slim Smith

 

 

STARKVILLE 

 

With 7 minutes, 20 seconds left in the game Saturday afternoon, Aeris Williams took a handoff from Nick Fitzgerald, ran right, and disappeared without fear or hesitation into a ton of writhing mass before plunging into the end zone for a 6-yard score, the final touchdown in the Mississippi State football team's 35-10 victory against BYU. 

 

With that, the junior tailback from West Point tied the team's nose tackle with two touchdowns on the season. 

 

"I can't believe it took six games to get up in there (the end zone)," Williams said, ignoring the reference to former Noxubee County High School standout Jeffrey Simmons, who has scored touchdowns on a fumble recovery and a blocked punt. "It felt great." 

 

On a day MSU didn't need help scoring touchdowns, Williams did all the things Bulldog fans have become accustomed to this season, his first at the uncontested starter at tailback. 

 

The A-Train, as he has become known, delivered as usual. In the 19th Century, people said you could set your watch by train. And so it is with the Bulldogs' A-train. He is reliable and keeps chugging, churning along. 

 

On Saturday, Williams had 23 carries for 114 yards and caught three passes for 33 yards. The ball was in his hands, one way or another, in roughly a third of MSU's plays. 

 

Saturday was his third 100-yard rushing game this season. He leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 523 yards. Throw in another 77 yards on 11 receptions and he's averaging 100 yards in total offense per game. 

 

Probably more than half of those hards come on pure nastiness. Williams plunges into the middle of the line and churns, grinds, and guts out the yards that often set the stage for the outside running of Fitzgerald and the passing game. 

 

"We knew he was going to be that kind of player," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "It was just a matter of him growing into the position -- understanding the reads, being patient in his runs, understanding how the plays are going to hit, understanding pass protection, understand the (passing) routes. I think a lot of people get lost on all that sometimes. It's not just about handing him the ball and saying, 'go run.' 

 

"Some of his big plays today were picking up pass protections and coming out of the backfield and catching some balls to keep some drives alive. You look at the 23 (rushes) for 114 (yards). He's grinding it out between tackles. His longest run was 19 yards. But some of the other plays he makes, you don't see. They are big plays. That's really what he's grown into." 

 

Williams' 5.5 yard-per-carry average isn't jaw-dropping, but his role on the team shouldn't be overlooked. 

 

When MSU has an established starter to do the hard work in the running game, it generally has good seasons. When that go-to back isn't established, the prospects dim, as was the case last season when the Bulldogs didn't settle on a workhorse back until Williams emerged late in the season. MSU finished 6-7 last season. That isn't a coincidence. 

 

Williams seized that role immediately in 2017, and not by default, either. Freshman Kylin Hill, of Columbus, is an electric player who will be hard to keep off the field. Nick Gibson and Dontavian Lee are rugged runners, too. That Williams has emerged from such a talented a group is a testament to his all-around abilities. 

 

"Having the A-Train going, it's huge," Fitzgerald said. "He runs the ball really hard, always getting you those extra hards, always falling forward. But he does so much more. He's just an all-around great player. It's awesome to have him back there with me." 

 

When a reporter noted Williams carried the ball 23 time on a unseasonably hot October afternoon, Williams seemed amused. At West Point, he didn't seem to get warmed up until he had hit about 30 carries. 

 

"Hey, I'm a warrior, bro," he said. "I've been handling that (work load) all my life." 

 

Perhaps the best measure of the importance Mullen places on Williams was his glib observation about the lack of touchdowns Williams has scored. 

 

"I gave it to him 23 times and he caught three passes. That's 25 chances he could have got in the end zone that he didn't do it," Mullen said. "That's not my fault. That's his fault. 

 

"I'm gonna have to talk to him about that." 

 

 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

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