When it was announced that Joe Moorhead would replace Dan Mullen at Mississippi State University, there was a lot of talk of how beneficial that move was for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Given Moorhead’s zone-read system, Fitzgerald got the perfect coach to replace a perfect coach for his final season. It just depends on how he comes back from his gruesome ankle injury that he suffered against Ole Miss last year. Yet all signs point for the quarterback to bounce back nicely.
Although Fitzgerald should benefit from Moorhead’s offense, so should another senior-to-be; running back Aeris Williams.
Mullen’s systems tendency to use quarterbacks as runners in high-leverage situations, which is why Fitzgerald ran for 14 touchdowns compared to Williams six. But if one takes a look through Moorhead’s past, one will realize that his system doesn’t rely upon a mobile signal caller. It relies on a do-it-all back — which Williams is. Just take a look back at last year when Moorhead was the offensive coordinator at Penn State University.
Yes, Moorhead had the great Saquon Barkley to utilize last year. But while Barkley was seen as the best back in the country, Moorhead used him in all facets of the offense. Hence why Barkley won the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the nation’s most versatile player.
Barkley ran for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns on 217 carries, while also catching 54 passes for 632 yards and three scores.
Now Moorhead’s success with backs began before Barkley. When Moorhead was the head coach of Fordham University — a FCS squad — he had two do-it-all backs in Carlton Koonce (2012-2013) and Chase Edmonds (2014-2015).
In Moorhead’s two seasons with Koonce, the back ran for 1,596 yards and 1,462, and tallied 313 receiving yards and 276, respectively. As for Edmonds, he recorded 1,838 yards and 1,648 on the ground, 121 yards and 383 through the air, respectively. That is an average of 1,636 rushing yards and 273 receiving yards at Fordham. As for Moorhead’s time at Penn State, Barkley average 1,384 rushing yards and 516 yards in his two seasons in the coach’s system.
Although Mississippi State does have another talented back in sophomore Kylin Hill, all signs point to Moorhead using Williams to the fullest extent of his abilities.
When Moorhead picks his guy, he locks in. Barkley’s understudy during Moorhead’s two seasons was former No. 1 running back recruit Miles Sanders. And even though Sanders is talented, he only averaged three carries per game the past two years.
Williams was a workhorse for the Bulldogs last season. He carried the ball 236 times (fourth in the SEC), 1,107 yards (sixth in the conference), and averaged 85.2 yards per game (also sixth in the SEC). The West Point, Mississippi native also ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns against a vaunted Alabama defense. So he has proven he can shoulder the load that Moorhead will more than likely ask of him.
The biggest difference this season is that Williams is going to take away some of Fitzgerald’s touches. Last year, Fitzgerald carries 162 times. Williams has to take some of those attempts just for the sake to ensure Fitzgerald stays healthy all year. Asking Fitzgerald to carry the ball that many times again is just too much to ask of one player, especially a quarterback.
In Moorhead’s perfect world, he’d have Williams on the field for all three downs. Given his new coach’s system, Mississippi State and the nation will see Williams blossom into an even more prominent 1-2 punch with Fitzgerald. Williams’ overall production should take a leap this season.
Now Williams is no Barkley. But don’t be surprised if Williams becomes one of the better all-around backs in nation in his final season, which Moorhead creates out of all of his backs.