Virginia Tech's Williams adds to highlight reel
Massive expectations at the start. Ailing by mid-September. Flying again for a championship run.
Such is the story of Virginia Tech's season.
So, too, is the story of Hokies running back Ryan Williams.
When Virginia Tech clinched another trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game by beating Miami 31-17 on Saturday, Williams was one of many heroes. His 84-yard touchdown run - the longest carry of his career - put No. 13 Virginia Tech ahead to stay early in the fourth quarter, as he finished with 142 yards on a mere 14 carries.
That hamstring he tore in Week 3? Not a problem anymore.
''I hate doubting myself, but I'm very confident in myself,'' Williams said. ''There were so many times at night, I just couldn't sleep, just thinking about, 'Will I be able to contribute like I used to? Am I still the same guy?' A lot of nights, I'd kick that around in my head.''
To get past that, Williams spent hours starting at old game footage.
That's right: Williams would looking up old highlight-reel moments of his freshman season, as if needing to remind himself that he really was one of the top runners in the nation.
The next time he goes to YouTube, he might want to check out the simple up-the-middle play that he turned into a touchdown that wrapped up the division title. He ran past the Miami defense and may as well have kept going all the way to Charlotte, N.C., where the Hokies will play Florida State or North Carolina State on Dec. 4 with a trip to the Orange Bowl at stake.
''Nobody's going to catch him,'' Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. ''That was a big run, right there.''
Beamer was beaming afterward, with good reason. A loss to Boise State to begin the season was one thing, but losing at home five days later to James Madison was a downright embarrassment to the Hokies, who went on a freefall from No. 10 to out of the rankings entirely - not getting one single vote - in the span of a week.
Now, they're in position to become the ACC's first undefeated champion since 2000, and reach a Bowl Championship Series game for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.
Virginia Tech closes regular-season play against rival Virginia on Saturday, a game that the Hokies say they'll be locked-in upon even with a trip to the conference title game looming.
''I think it's a relief knowing we're going to go to Charlotte and bring a bunch of people to Charlotte and see if we can't sell that thing out like the ACC championship game should be sold-out,'' Beamer said. ''But I think you can't be content. I think you when you start feeling satisfied, I think you're probably in trouble, and we've got a big, big game next week.
''To me, you don't dare let momentum get away from you.''
That's a lesson Williams learned the hard way this season.
It got off to a fine start, with two touchdowns against Boise State and then 91 yards in the James Madison upset. But he limped off after just six carries against East Carolina, didn't play for more than a month, and once he returned couldn't manage much more than a 9-yard carry until ripping off a 31-yarder last week against North Carolina.
And against Miami, he did a little bit better.
A whole lot better.
''I translated what I saw from my eyes to my feet, and I just ran to daylight,'' Williams said. ''I was just hoping and praying I didn't get caught.''
The Hurricanes have been one of major college football's very best against the pass, but they came into this weekend ranked No. 77 nationally against the run.
Williams was more than happy to find the holes. He hit Miami for 150 yards and two scores in 2009, then added 142 yards and two more TDs this season in his matchup with the Hurricanes.
So he can stop wondering if he'll contribute ever again for the Hokies. Not only did he run away from Miami, he ran away from doubt as well.
''It just felt good to be out there playing again and not worried about what's going on,'' Williams said. ''I still wrap it, just in case. But you know, I haven't felt it. And it feels good.''
These days, everything does for the Hokies.