Not many people can honestly say they saw Owen Williams’ breakout performance coming on Saturday. Except for perhaps Williams himself.

The redshirt junior recorded five tackles, including two sacks for 12 yards, in Tennessee’s 34-19 win over Arkansas State. Williams served as the backup nose tackle to Danny O’Brien and has made appearances in both of the Vols’ first two games this season.

“It was good, great to see,” head coach Butch Jones said of Williams breakout performance. “He had about three plays in a row, back-to-back-to-back, that really impacted the game. That’s the thing that we really focus on. How are you impacting the game when you’re on the field? Are you making impactful plays? He was able to do that and I think he’ll really gain some valuable confidence from that.”

Williams was one of 32 players to make his debut with Tennessee in the team’s home opener this season. A member of the Vols’ top-5 2014 recruiting class, Williams’ took a different road to Knoxville than some of his peers.

The three-star JUCO transfer didn’t receive the high acclaim of Tennessee’s other 2014 signees. In fact, Texas Tech was the only other program to offer Williams a scholarship. But the 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive tackle chose Tennessee and opted to enroll early this past January.

The decision has payed off as Williams looks to play a vital role in Tennessee’s defensive rotation. Williams has already earned the respect of linebacker and defensive leader A.J. Johnson.

“Man … that’s a great thing, man,” Johnson told GoVols247 0f his teammates performance against Arkansas State. “Owen, man, he went off. It felt so good just to see him out there running around and making plays like that.”

Williams’ presence on the defensive line helped Johnson see yet another stellar performance with nine tackles. However, it was the speed of the big-bodied Williams that impressed the All-SEC linebacker the most.

“There [were] plays where I was running, and he was, like, literally almost passing me. I was like, ‘Where’d you get this from?’” Johnson said. “He had a great game. If we keep getting games out of him like that, it’s gonna help the team real big. He was just out there balling. He was out there making plays, making sacks, getting to the ball.

“He said it last week. He said, ‘I ain’t givin’ no ground.’ And he made all the plays he could.”

Williams looks to be a surprise up-and-comer in Tennessee’s defensive scheme this season. With a young defensive line that lacks experience, the starting role is wide open for the taking. If Williams can continue the success he saw on Saturday, it won’t be long until his name is listed at the top of the depth chart.