Rawleigh Williams III thriving after injury cut freshman season short
If there were any questions about what sort of an impact running back Rawleigh Williams III would make as a sophomore, the Dallas native has put them to rest just two games into the season.
Even though he didn’t score a touchdown in Arkansas’ 41-38 double-OT victory over TCU last weekend, Williams played a key factor to help the Razorbacks leave Fort Worth with a wild win over their former Southwest Conference rival.
Williams ran hard against the Horned Frogs, finishing the night with 137 yards on 28 carries. He started fast on the Razorbacks’ opening drive as he rumbled for a 37-yard gain that set Arkansas up at TCU’s 22-yard line, a play which ultimately sparked his best performance since arriving in Fayetteville.
While he was at his best Saturday, Williams’ freshman season ended early after he sustained a neck injury against Auburn last October. Although Alex Collins was the Razorbacks’ featured back in 2015, Williams still looked promising before his rookie season was cut short. In fact, he was a key factor in Arkansas’ 24-20 victory over Tennessee when he ran for a career-high 100 yards on 14 carries two weeks before his season ended against the Tigers.
After throwing his coming-out party against the Volunteers, Williams was at the center of a scary scene when he was carted off the field on a stretcher against Auburn. Questions of whether or not he would ever be able to return to action began to surface. However, the running back has shined in the first two games of his sophomore season.
In the season opener, Williams rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries — a performance which solidified his position as the Razorbacks’ top running back in 2016. So far, he has carried the load for the running game as Kody Walker (13 carries, 43 yards) has fallen in line as the team’s second option.
In fact, Williams’ 52 carries is tied with none other than Georgia running back Nick Chubb for the most carries in the FBS entering Week 3.
His comeback isn’t only a good story because of the severity of his injury. Arkansas truly needed a boost after Collins entered the NFL Draft after having a dominant junior season. In his final year with the Razorbacks, Collins was named Second-Team All-SEC after recording a career-best 1,577 yards and finishing the season with a school-record 20 touchdowns.
The junior went on to lead Arkansas to a 45-23 victory over Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl, putting an exclamation point on his collegiate career by capturing game MVP honors after running for 185 yards and 3 touchdowns in the win.
Williams had some big shoes to fill, though he’s looked comfortable since taking over a larger role in the offense.
The running game was a question mark for the Razorbacks entering the season as they not only had to replace Collins, but also break in first-year quarterback Austin Allen after his older brother Brandon closed out his career in that same Liberty Bowl.
So far, Williams has proven he can carry the load. Although the sample size is still small, the sophomore running back’s success has helped Arkansas jump out to a 2-0 record this season. His role will become even more challenging going forward once the Razorbacks open SEC play against Texas A&M next weekend following a non-conference bout against Texas State on Saturday night.
If there is any questions whether Williams’ success will continue against superior SEC defenses, doubters may want to hold off before making any declarations.
After all, the sophomore only needed the first two games of this season to prove he’s the man in a crowded Arkansas backfield.