No matter his heading on the gridiron — north-south or east-west — Boston College running back Andre Williams does not always take the easiest path through the line of scrimmage. He does not always run to daylight.
“Sometimes,’’ Williams said, “you’ve got to run into the darkness.’’
It takes a rugged man to withstand the punishment required of a running back who is asked time and again to sacrifice his body for the good of the team by venturing into those dark and dirty areas between the tackles.
But in Williams, a 6-foot, 227-pound senior from Schnecksville, Pa., the Eagles have precisely the type of individual who is willing and able to operate in that foreboding zone.
For his performance in BC’s 24-10 victory over Wake Forest last Friday at Alumni Stadium, Williams earned ACC Offensive Back of the Week honors, running 35 times for a career-high 204 yards.
And this was after Williams missed a lot of practice time resting a strained hamstring and recovering from a bad head cold.
“It was frustrating,’’ he said. “I think God was just testing me that week, but I’m glad he gave me the opportunity to be mentally strong.’’
Williams, the fourth-ranked rusher in the nation with 159.0 yards per game, had a tour de force fourth quarter that showcased his mental toughness. On BC’s last possession, Williams carried eight consecutive times for 46 yards to seal the verdict.
“Running the ball is all about getting the looks and just being nasty,’’ said BC senior right tackle Ian White. “This is his offense, basically. All our plays are perfect plays for him. We start running side to side, but he’ll pound it up in there.
“We can run any offense, but him running the rock downhill is what he wants and that’s what we’re doing.’’
Williams’s effectiveness between the tackles has opened up the play-action game for quarterback Chase Rettig, the only Californian on BC’s roster and a man who will be counted on to be more than just a tour guide when the Eagles play their first road game of the season Saturday against Southern Cal at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“He’s a legitimate, powerful, fast running back,’’ said BC coach Steve Addazio. “He’s got great speed now. So that puts a lot of pressure to defend the run. But then, we need to have balance and we need to find a way to get the throw game going and be able to get open against really good man-coverage players.’’
Against a stingy USC defense, which has held its first two opponents to a combined 107 rushing yards, it will be imperative for the Eagles to control the ball with a balanced approach that includes a strong power running game.
“We just want to try and consume clock and get our defense off the field,’’ said Rettig. “Obviously, with Andre running hard and breaking tackles, it’ll be a major factor in us picking up first downs and continue to work the clock.’’
Williams gave a glimpse of that strategy against Wake Forest when he capped a seven-play, 47-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown plunge that gave BC a commanding 24-7 lead in the third quarter.
After failing in three previous appearances against the Demon Deacons — which produced a grand total of 1 rushing yard on six carries — Williams was determined to fight through his tight hamstrings, which were cramping up, to finish the game.
“On the play I scored, I was real tired,’’ Williams said. “I looked to the sideline and Coach [Al] Washington [running backs coach] was standing there [pounding his chest] going, ‘Where’s your heart?’ And I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get one more in there.’
“But it was really a group effort.’’
Williams set up his TD with a 21-yard run on third and 2 to the 7, where he eschewed the opportunity to run out of bounds and doled out some punishment by lowering his shoulder and obliterating defensive back A.J. Marshall.
“It’s all strategy,’’ Williams said. “If I know that I’m not going to be able to make it around a guy, then I’m just going to try and put my shoulder in his chest and maybe the next play it’ll be play-action and ‘Amitron’ [wide receiver Alex Amidon] will be running down the field and that DB won’t be in his right state of mind.’’
It’s a technique Williams has perfected in practice, earning the admiration of the men up front responsible for clearing his path.
“It’s funny, out here in practice, the skill guys, they just want you to wrap them up and not bring them down to the ground,’’ said White. “But you just see him lower his shoulder into our defense and there’s nothing anyone can do.
“He’s just a nasty downhill running back and that’s what we want in this offense.’’