Damian Williams very nearly led Texas State to a mammoth upset over Appalachian State Saturday night. Williams led the Bobcats on a daring 98-yard drive that ended up one yard short of the goal line. If Williams has to survive many more games like that, he may not survive the season.
We reviewed all 46 of Williams' dropbacks to see how he, and more importantly, how his offensive line fared. Appalachian State is a 3-4 attacking unit with plus players across their defensive front. They're an experienced group, if undersized, the Mountaineers start five seniors and two juniors in their front seven. They're quick, active, and get after the quarterback. Prepping for Appalachian State is a chore for an offensive line with two freshman, two sophomores, and a junior starting.
Texas State tried to shield their young lineman by rolling Williams and moving him, especially away from the left side of the line. The 'Cats also left Gabe Schrade and a running back into help with protection.
That youth showed and the extra help didn't prevent pressure, especially when Appalachian State brought an extra rusher. The Mountaineers rushed five or more on almost 40% of Texas State's passing plays. 76% of the time the extra rusher resulted in a sack or a hurry, moving Williams off his spot or speeding up his timing. The Mountaineers sacked Williams three times when using the extra rusher(s) and hit Williams 70% percent of the time. Williams completed 46% of his passes against the blitz.
Williams took a beating, hit 25 times or 54% of his dropbacks, including several big shots from free rushers, that's not counting designed runs. To put this into perspective, a bad day in the NFL is anything above 20%. You can attribute part of Williams' hit rate to the scheme, several times when the Mountaineers took away the sole receiving option; there was very little Williams could do but eat the ball.
Texas State's backs, when asked to help in blitz pickup, struggled with the task. Blitz pickup is one of the more nuanced and challenging skills to develop in running backs. A running back that can pick up free rushers can have a long career on Sundays. It's a rare skill set and Texas State's backs are young. They faced a mismatch in Appalachian State's big, physical, experienced front seven.
There's good news or at least a glimmer of it; the Bobcats were better against three or four-man rush packages. The 'Cats gave Williams a clean pocket 60% of the time against three or four rushers, in other words, Williams had time to make a decision. Coverage dictated that Williams pull the ball down and run on five attempts. Williams took thirteen hits against conventional rush groups.
Texas State's young offensive line is getting better. From Houston Baptist to Colorado to Appalachian State, the Bobcat's young line improved. They're still a far sight from efficiency, but they'll grow over the course of the season, perhaps more so than more experienced groups. They have a higher ceiling.
On Williams' touchdown pass to Mason Hays, the Bobcats made a blitz into a conventional package by keeping both their running back and tight end in to help. The Bobcats got bigs on bigs and used their additional protection to augment. The protection group gave Williams a pocket, and they gave him an eternity, 3.5 seconds, to pick out Hays and deliver a dart.
The other good news is that Williams is very adept at extending plays. He's comfortable moving in the pocket and can throw from different arm slots while on the run. He's pretty accurate on the move himself. Williams is also built like a fullback and durable enough to withstand the punishment. Though if opponents dole out the punishment as it was on Saturday night, that durability will be tested.
You can bet that UTSA is excited to unleash their blitz package on Texas State's young offensive line.