The Washington Huskies can see the similarities.
On Saturday, Jimmy Lake’s crew will feel them, too.
In UW’s 20-19 loss to Cal on Sept. 7 (and 8), running back Christopher Brown Jr. led the Golden Bears with 110 rushing yards and 5 yards per punishing carry. On second-and-10 from the Washington 43-yard line late in the third quarter, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound battering ram of a running back took a handoff out of the pistol, scooted past blitzing safety Myles Bryant, barreled through a diving tackle attempt from linebacker Brandon Wellington and burst into the open field. He punctuated the 21-yard run by emphatically stiff-arming freshman safety Cameron Williams into the artificial turf.
After it was over, when the lightning left town and the loss was still fresh, Husky coach Chris Petersen said that “it just seemed to me from the naked eye on the sideline that it’s more tackles than we’ve missed in a while. It just kind of showed up.”
Granted, Brown won’t be suiting back up for BYU on Saturday.
But senior running back Ty’Son Williams brings the same bruising swagger.
“He’s very physical,” Wellington said of Williams. “Very elusive as well as a very powerful back, coming in at 220 (pounds). But you can see on film he’s making people miss in the hole. He’s got that quick twitch to him, and very similar to that Cal running back is how I would compare him.”
In three games this season, the 6-foot, 220-pound Williams — a North Carolina transfer — has led the Cougars with 236 rushing yards, 5.5 yards per carry and three touchdowns. He has averaged at least 5.2 yards per rush, in fact, in each of those three games. Williams piled up 117 total yards and 5.2 yards per carry in BYU’s 30-27 overtime win over USC last weekend.
Still, even factoring in his considerable contributions, BYU ranks 112th nationally in rushing offense (110 yards per game) and 103rd in yards per carry (3.59). When it comes to the running game, Williams is the whole show in Provo.
And, unfortunately, the Huskies have seen this show before.
“We compared him to that Cal running back,” said senior inside linebacker Kyler Manu. “We’ve just got to tackle him low, take his engine out. But they’ve got some good gap schemes. They’ve got every run in the book, basically.
“I think it’s going to be big for us to own our leverage and own our role and not try to do too much. If you have the A gap, fit the A gap. If you have the B gap, fit the B gap.”
And when Williams hits your gap, hit Williams.
Still, recent history suggests that’ll be easier said than done.
“What I learned (from the Cal loss) is that you’ve just got to trust the form of your tackling,” Manu said. “I feel like I started to hit too high. I’ve got to just stay low. Every team’s going to have a good big back, so I think we’ve got to keep practicing our dog (gang) tackles.”
That’s the primary responsibility of Washington’s contributing inside linebackers — Manu (17 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Wellington (11 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks) and redshirt freshmen M.J. Tafisi (9 tackles) and Jackson Sirmon (8 tackles). Operating in the immense void left by Seahawks rookie Ben Burr-Kirven, tackling, pursuit angles and gap assignments remain legitimate areas of concern.
But as for the UW defensive line? Well, things seem to be a whole lot simpler.
“We’re always going to be a team that emphasizes tackling, so you’ll see us get better as the year goes,” junior defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike said with a shrug. “In practice we’ll do drills. It’s really just people getting their feet wet. It’ll take care of itself.”
As for the specific challenges associated with tackling big backs, like Brown and Williams?
“Uhh, no challenges,” Onwuzurike responded. “Maybe for the linebackers, but all backs are the same to me.”
That might be oversimplified, but Brown and Williams are certainly similar. Same build. Same burst. Same bruising swagger.
Same challenge (even if Onwuzurike doesn’t care to admit it). But this time, might there be different results?
“I feel like across the board, we just need to tackle better,” Wellington said. “It’s been a big emphasis since that (Cal) game, and we’re just (focused on) pushing him back.”