Story by Ben Everett | Sports Editor, Video by Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter
In the second quarter of Baylor football’s 37-34 win over Kansas State on Saturday at McLane Stadium, Baylor head coach Matt Rhule had a decision to make. The Bears were down 7-6 to the Wildcats and were without junior running back JaMycal Hasty and sophomore running back John Lovett due to concussion protocol.
The Bears were in desperate need of a spark in their rushing game.
Rhule turned to freshman running back Craig “Sqwirl” Williams, who had yet to play a game in a Baylor uniform. Williams took his first collegiate carry 14 yards on a third down to give the Bears a first down at midfield and set up a scoring drive that would put them on top 12-7.
Thanks to the new redshirt rule in college football, players are permitted to play in four games in a season and still redshirt so that they do not lose a year of eligibility. Rhule had been holding Williams back in order to preserve his eligibility but made the decision to play him against Kansas State due to a lack of running back depth. Rhule said the redshirt rule is great because it allows young talent to impact the team.
“We turned to Sqwirl, and it’s great when you see young guys step up and just be ready for their opportunity,” Rhule said, “Number one, it’s a great rule and number two, I just think it speaks a lot to the character of those guys that they were willing to go out there and play and fight … I was just proud of Sqwirl. He went out there and used one of his games as a redshirt for two plays. Just happy for him and happy for a lot of guys.”
With the game tied at 27 with seven minutes remaining, Rhule turned to Williams once again. This time, Williams broke free down the left side for a 21-yard touchdown run, the first of his career, to give the Bears a 34-27 lead.
Rhule said assistant coach George DeLeone, who helped recruit Williams, advised Rhule about Williams’ explosive potential.
“You know, it’s funny, Coach DeLeone came back to us. He’s been out, and he was part of recruiting Sqwirl,” Rhule said. “I remember one time he said, ‘You give [Williams] 10 carries, he’s going to bust one.’ I gave him two and he busted one.”
Williams, who was the No. 18-ranked running back in the 2018 recruiting class according to ESPN, said Rhule told him to be ready to play this week and he was ready for his opportunity to contribute.
“That first college touchdown feels great, but like I said, I’m going to remain humble, stay patient and when I get called again, I’ll be ready,” Williams said. “It was pretty cool, you know. He told me [I might play] this week, and I was like, ‘Coach, I’m going to be ready.’ He trusts me, he put me in the game, and I made the best opportunity that I could.”
Senior wide receiver Jalen Hurd said Williams is impressive in practice, so he wasn’t surprised when Williams made a major impact in the game.
“He does that in practice all the time. I knew he was going to bust one. As soon as he got out in the open, I knew he was going to make something happen,” Hurd said. “I was very excited just to see it come out in the game because he does it all the time in practice. I’m very happy for him.”
In the absence of Hasty and Lovett, two other Baylor skill players stepped up to lead the rushing attack. Sophomore running back Trestan Ebner recorded a season-high 100 rushing yards on 17 carries while Hurd contributed 56 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown on eight carries. Rhule said Ebner came through with physical runs all afternoon.
“He had some physical ones,” Rhule said. “Some he ran through contact and he fought for first downs. He had to be able to get in there and blitz pick up every play. His number was called and Trestan [Ebner] stepped up and made plays.”
The Bears’ rushers turned in 261 yards on the ground after posting an average of 122 rushing yards in the team’s last four games. Baylor is now 3-0 on the season when they post 140 or more rushing yards.
Hurd, who is the University of Tennessee’s second all-time leading rusher after playing running back for the Volunteers for three years, amassed 135 receiving yards for the Bears on Saturday in addition to his work in the run game. Hurd said his multi-faceted offensive game fits well with the Baylor offense.
“I love wide receiver, but I like running back, too,” Hurd said. “I like being used in different ways, so it’s a good fit.”