Most third string quarterbacks rarely have a significant impact on a team throughout the course of a season. If they do, it’s normally because the two guys in front of them can’t get the job done or they can’t stay healthy. The latter happened to Mississippi State.
When compiling the top 5 moments for the 2013 season, it became apparent to me that it made more sense to focus on the story lines instead of specific moments. Damian Williams definitely fit into that category.
When the coaching staff was evaluating their quarterback situation at the beginning of the year, they probably felt good about who they had available. On one hand, they had Tyler Russell who broke most Mississippi State passing record in a single season. On the other hand, they had Dak Prescott who was a perfect fit for the offense that Mullen and Koenning wanted to run. Williams was an incoming freshman that was going to get redshirted.
Then the injuries came.
Russell would suffer a concussion in the opening game against Oklahoma State, and Mullen decided to burn the redshirt of Williams in the following game against Alcorn State just in case he would need some game experience if either quarterback suffered further injuries. It ended up being one of the best decisions of the season by Mullen.
After a tumultuous week leading up to the Texas A&M game, Dak Prescott would play the game of his life, virtually keeping the Bulldogs in the game by himself. At the end, he would suffer a nerve injury that sidelined him for the Alabama and Arkansas games, and most believed he wouldn’t play against Ole Miss.
Tyler Russell would fill in for Prescott in the Alabama game, but he would suffer his own injury in that game which led an under prepared Williams to be forced into action. To his credit, he didn’t make any mistakes and had a sure fire touchdown dropped. Russell was healthy enough to play against Arkansas but was injured on the final drive of regulation. If State was going to win for the first time in Arkansas, they were going to do it with Williams at the helm. Williams had played some throughout this game, but had only received a minimal amount of snaps. Despite the circumstances, Williams took the ball on the first play of overtime and ran 25 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the game winner.
The injury to Russell would knock him out of the Egg Bowl, and Mullen revealed later that Prescott had not been cleared to play until the day of the game, but did not plan to use Prescott because Mullen didn’t want to risk further injury. So the fate of the season and a bowl berth would largely rest on the shoulders of Williams. For three quarters, Williams was steady. He had a few balls dropped, and he successfully led a touchdown drive after Bo Wallace threw an interception around midfield. While the offense wasn’t doing much with Williams at quarterback in the Egg Bowl, the defense was allowing him to simply play conservative, mistake free football.
The Egg bowl almost fell apart for Mississippi State at the end of the second half. Jameon Lewis made a poor decision to field a punt at the 5 yard line that was clearly going to go into the end zone with about a minute left on the clock. In hopes of running out the clock, the offensive coaching staff ran three extremely conservative running plays that pinned the team deep in their own territory. After three Ole Miss timeouts, Swedenburg would bobble the snap and have his punt blocked in the endzone which Ole Miss recovered for a touchdown. The Rebels got the ball to start the second half and promptly drove down the field and took the lead on a field goal.
At that point, State needed the offense to be more productive. The much needed offense would not come in the third quarter. The two teams traded punts for the remainder of the period. At the beginning of the fourth, State was trying to mount a drive to tie or take the lead. In a desperate attempt to make a play, Williams threw an ill advised pass as he was about to run out of bounds that was easily intercepted. Mullen decided at that point to insert Prescott into the game since he had been cleared that day to play.
Williams may not have played much during the season, but he certainly had an impact on salvaging what many thought might be a disastrous one. His confidence on the first play of overtime in the Arkansas game set up a monumental Egg Bowl. His ability to play above his experience level in the first three quarters of the Egg Bowl allowed Dak Prescott to come in and perform his late game heroics.
I honestly don’t know what impact Williams will have on the team in the years to come. You can argue about whether he saved the season or just did enough to allow others to come in and save it. The one thing that is clear though is that if he had performed any differently, Mississippi State might be sitting at home this holiday season.
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