Less than one year ago, Williams arrived at Ohio State as an unheralded three-star recruit. Ranked as the 45th-best running back and No. 627 overall prospect in the class of 2020, Williams was widely seen as a consolation prize for the Buckeyes after they missed out on higher-ranked running backs like Bijan Robinson, Kendall Milton and Jaylan Knighton.
At the time, most people probably wouldn’t have guessed that Williams would be competing for Ohio State’s starting running back job going into his second year as a Buckeye.
He needed just 10 carries as a true freshman, however, to substantially raise expectations for his Ohio State career – and become a fan favorite in the process.
“I got way more followers on my social media,” Williams said this spring. “After that Clemson game, my followers went up a lot. A lot of people started talking about me, started noticing me.”
After gaining five yards on the first run of his Ohio State career on the final play of the Buckeyes’ 49-27 win over Rutgers, Williams’ first real opportunity to start making a name for himself came in Ohio State’s 52-12 win over Michigan State. Williams ran the ball five times in that game, including a sequence in the fourth quarter on which he ran the ball on four straight plays and gained at least five yards on each of them to move the chains for a pair of first downs.
He only got four more carries for the rest of the season, but they came on big stages. With Master Teague sidelined by a concussion, Williams was the only other running back besides Trey Sermon who got the ball in the Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern or the College Football Playoff semifinal win against Clemson, and he gained 31 combined yards on the first three of those carries before slipping for no gain on what would be his final play of the season.
Unfortunately for Williams, he didn’t get to make the trip to the national championship game due to a positive COVID-19 test. Ohio State certainly could have used him, as Sermon suffered a shoulder injury on the first play of the game while Teague and Marcus Crowley combined for just 79 yards on 21 carries in the Buckeyes’ 52-24 loss to Alabama.
Had Williams been available for that game, he likely would have gotten his largest workload of the season with Sermon out. Instead, he finished his freshman year with just 10 carries on 14 total snaps.
By gaining 64 yards on those 10 carries, though, Williams built some very real momentum that could lead to many more carries in the Buckeyes’ backfield this year.
Watch the clips above, and it’s not hard to see why many Ohio State fans are clamoring to see more of Williams in 2021. He gained five yards or more on eight of his 10 carries last season while showing both the strength to finish through contact and the cutting ability to bounce away from defenders. That power wasn’t surprising to see from Williams, who’s listed at 5-foot-8 and 227 pounds and has been described as a “bowling ball”; how much burst and agility he showed as a freshman was a bit more unexpected.
“A little bit of speed, a little bit of wiggle,” Williams said when asked this spring what he thought he was able to show during his freshman year.
It’s dangerous to create expectations for a player based off of just 10 plays. While he’s been impressive as a runner when he’s gotten opportunities, he hasn’t yet shown at the collegiate level how he can perform over the course of an entire game. And he remains entirely unproven in the passing game, both as a receiver and as a blocker, as he has not yet caught a pass as a Buckeye and was on the field for just three passing plays in 2020, per Pro Football Focus.
There’s been plenty of players who have garnered high expectations off of just a few plays that haven’t actually lived up to those expectations once they’ve started playing regularly. But the excitement around Williams isn’t just a fan-created phenomenon.
The trust he’s already earned from Ohio State’s coaches was evident by the fact that he consistently took first-team reps at running back this spring, when Teague was only a limited participant due to an undisclosed injury.
“I’m really anxious to watch Miyan Williams,” running backs coach Tony Alford said this spring. “Here’s a guy that he had a smattering of carries, a very small sample size, but what he did, he was very successful in those opportunities. So he’s continuing to grow into the program and in this offense.”
It’s already apparent that Williams has moved ahead of third-year running backs Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers in Ohio State’s running back pecking order. What’s not yet clear is whether Williams could also steal the starting job away from Teague, while freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson is also expected to make a serious push for immediate playing time.
Regardless of whether he’s the No. 1, 2 or 3 running back on the depth chart, it would be a surprise if Williams doesn’t have a substantive rule in Ohio State’s offense this year. Although Ohio State has usually had a two-man running back rotation with Alford as running backs coach, a three-back rotation featuring some combination of Williams, Teague and Henderson seems like a possibility this year, at least early in the season until one or two running backs start to separate themselves as the Buckeyes’ best.
“You're going to need three backs that can play championship football for us,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said at the end of spring.
Williams appears to have established himself as a player who’s too promising not to have at least some role in the offense this season. That’s not a sentence that’s often written about a three-star recruit going into just his second year at Ohio State, but it is a testament to how much of an impression he’s made since he arrived on campus last June.