October 17, 2017 10:16:59 AM
STARKVILLE -- Chris Chambless would know better than most when it comes to Aeris Williams' durability. He did his best to test it during Williams' career at West Point High School, giving him over 22 carries per game over his junior and senior seasons.
Chambless said over the summer Williams, "could tote it 35 times if they need him to." That seemed impossible given Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen's track record of running back use, but halfway through the season, Williams is much closer than most others.
Mullen rarely uses a true workhorse running back, but Williams' 16.2 carries per game is the at least two per game beyond any MSU running back dating back to LaDarius Perkins in 2012. Williams shows ne hesitation carrying the load for MSU (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) and hopes to do more of the same as the Bulldogs host Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 SEC) 3 p.m. Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium (SEC Network).
"Man, I'm a warrior," Williams said. "I feel good. I been doing that all my life, bro. I'm good."
Williams' 16.2 carries per games bests his mark of 10.5 last year, which also led all running backs. The volume rushers of the 2015, 2014 and 2013 seasons -- Brandon Holloway, Josh Robinson and Perkins, respectively -- averaged 7.08, 14.6 and 11.4 carries per game, respectively, before Perkins' 2012 season of 17.08 carries per game.
There are some workhorse backs early in Mullen's MSU tenure, like Anthony "Boobie" Dixon and his 23.36 carries per game in 2009, but since Mullen has established his personnel in the program, the workhorse back has become a rarity.
Williams is the kind of back that makes Mullen think twice about rotating.
"He gets into the flow of the game and understands how people are going to play us," Mullen said. "Just because you see it on film doesn't mean that's all they're going to do: BYU played us very different from what they'd shown on film. You kind of have to get into the game to understand how the plays are going to be made.
"Fortunately he's a guy that's a very conditioned athlete that continues to get stronger, so as the game goes on he's more comfortable with the reads and can understand what's going on, he's still going to be running strong in the fourth quarter."
Mullen's point on film study only taking a running back so far is undeniable, but it remains a big part of Williams' routine. Williams said doesn't have a carries threshold at which he feels comfortable and settled into a game; he reaches that comfort in the days leading up a game by watching film.
The very nature of a workhorse implies little help, but Williams knows he has plenty in the running backs behind him, sure, but more so in the man handing him the ball.
Nick Fitzgerald has run 69 times for 457 yards and seven touchdowns. In the option scheme MSU primarily uses, it often gives Williams his carries between the tackles and the Fitzgerald's on the edge; they know they help each other in that respect.
As Williams put it, "They have to try to control him, too."
Even when Williams is the recipient of a designed handoff without the Fitzgerald option attached, it often carries over the power flavor. In many cases, it is power it its most literal sense: the Power play, in which Williams is following a pulling guard to attack defenses in the middle. Taking on offenses in such a physical manner so often has to take on a toll -- Williams has hit 23 carries in a single game twice this season -- but he doesn't mind.
"We can do it on anybody as long as we come out there and execute," Williams said.
So can he.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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