Heading into the 2017 season Louisville’s rushing attack was somewhat of a concern. Regardless of who emerged as the first string running back, the Cards lacked a proven and consistent ball carrier.
Reggie Bonnafon received quite a bit of praise throughout the spring/summer after switching from receive to running back. Jeremy Smith returned after a couple of solid seasons, but we’d yet to see Smith as a feature back and he’s had issues with holding onto the ball. Senior Malik Williams was thought to be someone who could provide some solid depth.
Two weeks into the season, Smith is out for the year with an injury, Bonnafon has yet to find his groove at the position and Williams has now emerged as the best option.
Some fans may not have known much about Williams, considering he had such a small role last year and wasn’t one of the higher rated recruit in Louisville’s 2016 recruiting class.
Williams is originally from Wilson, North Carolina and attended James B. Hunt High School, near Raleigh. It doesn’t appear that he was highly recruiting as a high school prospect. His ESPN.com recruiting profile has him as an unranked defensive back with zero scholarship offers.
In his first collegiate season Williams played wide receiver and free safety for Merced College in California. He later transferred to another school in California, Alan Hancock College, and was given the opportunity to play running back. Williams only played seven games in the 2015 season due to an injury, but was productive when healthy. He rushed for 525 yards, averaging 5.6 per carry, and five touchdowns in those seven games. He also caught 18 passes for 217 yards and a TD and returned one punt for a touchdown.
During his recruitment process Williams considered UAB and Purdue before eventually deciding to sign with Louisville.
“Malik did a really nice job,” Bobby Petrino said following Williams’ 149-yard performance on Saturday at North Carolina. “He made them miss tackles. He cut back. He’s a physical guy. We’ve been waiting for him to get going. Unfortunately he had a bad injury last year and didn’t go in spring ball, and it’s a credit to him how hard he’s worked.”
Williams will be heavily relied on this weekend as the Cards host Clemson. Fortunately, with Lamar Jackson being one of the top rushers in college football, Williams doesn’t need to have a monster game, but he and Bonnafon will need to be able to give the offense some balance against Clemson’s stout defense.