When Mississippi State’s hiring of Joe Moorhead was announced, there seemed to be a consensus reaction.

“Man, that’s great for Nick Fitzgerald.”

That’s true. Moorhead’s arrival in Starkville will indeed be great for Fitzgerald, who could’ve been an interesting transfer candidate had MSU gone in a different direction. Given Moorhead’s zone-read principles, Fitzgerald got the perfect coach to replace the other perfect coach. It’ll be Moorhead who will be tasked with giving Fitzgerald the proper swan song.

But it’s another senior-to-be who could see the greatest uptick in production in Moorhead’s offense.

Aeris Williams is going to be that guy.

If you take a closer look at Moorhead’s proven model of success, it’s not just about having a mobile quarterback. In order for that offense to work, he needs to have a do-it-all tailback. Moorhead is not one who typically shuffles in three guys like Georgia does. He doesn’t lean on a bevy of backs to each handle one specific responsibility apiece.

Saquon Barkley just won the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the nation’s most-versatile player. Considering the way Moorhead uses his featured tailback, Barkley’s honor wasn’t surprising at all.

Williams is not on the same level as Barkley. To assume that he’ll replicate a future top-5 pick’s success just because he’s in Moorhead’s system would be unfair.

But don’t be surprised when Williams becomes Moorhead’s next star tailback.

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Moorhead’s success with do-it-all tailbacks predates Barkley. When Moorhead was the head coach at FCS Fordham, he wasn’t shy about using his featured backs as much as possible. If you want to be “the guy” in Moorhead’s system, don’t expect a whole lot of down time.

Here’s a look at the usage of Moorhead’s featured backs since he started at Fordham in 2012:

Moorhead’s Fordham featured backs
2012 Carlton Koonce
2013 Koonce
2014 Chase Edmonds
2015 Edmonds
Rushing attempts
300
307
294
251
Rushing yards
1,596
1,462
1,838
1,648
Receptions
48
41
19
31
Receiving yards
313
276
121
383
Yards per touch
5.49
4.99
6.26
7.20

That’s an average of 288 rushing attempts for 1,636 yards and 35 catches for 273 yards. That’s nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage at a pace of 5.91 yards per touch. At Fordham.

Moorhead picks his guy and he locks in. At Penn State, he had the No. 1 tailback recruit in the 2016 class, Miles Sanders, as Barkley’s understudy. Sanders, who is an incredibly talented player in his own right, averaged just over 2 touches per game in Moorhead’s offense the last two years.

On the other hand, look at Barkley’s usage under Moorhead:

Barkley w/ Moorhead
2016 (14 games)
2017 (12 games)
Rushing attempts
272
199
Rushing yards
1,496
1,134
Receptions
28
47
Receiving yards
402
594
Yards per touch
6.32
7.02

Keep in mind that Barkley played behind an offensive line that was mediocre at best the last two years. That was why his 2017 rushing attempts took a significant dip. When the running game didn’t take off, Moorhead just got Barkley more involved in the passing game.

All signs point to Moorhead taking a similar approach with the versatile Williams. He already proved that he can handle a full workload. He got 20-plus touches in each of MSU’s final seven games of 2017. One of those games was against Alabama, when Williams racked up 106 yards from scrimmage and 2 touchdowns against the vaunted Tide defense.

Williams finished 2017 on a strong note, and there’s still room for him to grow. He already possesses so many of the skills that’ll make him one of Moorhead’s guys. When the ball isn’t in his hands, Williams blocks extremely well (Moorhead loved Barkley’s willingness to do that in critical points of games).

The Commercial Dispatch’s Brett Hudson put together a few clips of Williams’ blocking abilities:

In Moorhead’s perfect world, he’d have Williams on the field for all three downs, series after series. Having someone who can do that is such a key element to disguising the zone-read offense, as we have already seen under Dan Mullen.

The biggest difference is that Williams is going to take away some of Fitzgerald’s touches. He has to. While I believe that Mullen was the right coach to maximize Fitzgerald’s abilities, it was an awful lot to ask of one player.

We’re going to see Williams blossom into an even more prominent 1-2 punch with Fitzgerald. Williams’ touches will spike, as will his overall production. With all eyes on Fitzgerald, Williams will develop into one of the better all-around backs in America. That’s just what Moorhead does.

Moorhead will absolutely be great for Fitzgerald, but man, he’s going to be even greater for Williams.