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UPDATED: Running Back Roulette, Cards Look for Stability

Jahwan Edwards up the middle in spring practice. How much do you want to bet he will get at least three yards?

We just passed the one year anniversary of running back Eric Williams transferring from Ball State which leads me to the issue of how it impacted the running game in 2011.

This is a topic many fans probably do not want to revisit but I have a bias with Williams. My sophomore year Williams moved into my dorm and lived two rooms down the hall. During the disastrous Stan Parrish era, the guys on our hall still went to Ball State games largely because we wanted to support Williams.

Coming from the football factory of Indianapolis in Warren Central High School, Williams expected to win at Ball State too. We all know that did not happen. The fact he left may hinder Ball State from recruiting future Warren players.

When Williams transferred before the 2011 season it did not appear many fans had much respect for him. Comments on articles I read were harsh and accused Williams of being a diva. In Lembo’s short tenure in Muncie it has to be the No. 1 head scratcher. OTP got a hold of Williams after he transferred and you can find his side of the story here.

Williams and I communicated over Facebook and I told him I wanted to write a post about the running backs.

“Lembo’s and Parrish’s offenses are completely different,” Williams said.  “Lembo is more of a pass now run later where Parrish was the complete opposite.”

The difference in play calling was not only problem Williams had with Lembo.

“I just didn’t feel he understood that some players have problems outside of school and football. Maybe it was the pressure of getting the team on the correct path but I felt disrespected daily from him and various coaches so I left before a serious issue became present.”

It is all history now as Williams has given up D-1 football to focus on other endeavors.

With his departure the Ball State running back corps went through a major overhaul in 2011. MiQuale Lewis had finally exhausted his eligibility after what feels like a decade at Ball State. Cory Sykes and David Brown also exited after an injury plague careers.

The top four rushing leaders in 2010 were gone in 2011. Adversity like that should cripple a team. Yet Ball State made it through with a two win improvement.

Below are the numbers for the top four rushers in 2010 and 2011.

2010 Player GP  Car net yards avg per car TDs Long Avg game
WILLIAMS, Eric 11 127 613 4.8 5 42 55.7
LEWIS, MiQuale 11 118 414 3.5 1 26 37.6
BROWN, David 12 62 348 5.6 1 80 29
SYKES, Cory 8 46 260 5.7 2 37 32.5
2011 Player GP  Car net yards avg per car TDs Long Avg game
EDWARDS, Jahwan 12 178 786 4.4 11 28 65.5
SCOTT, B. 9 89 370 4.2 1 22 41.1
DONIGAN, D. 11 58 191 3.3 2 20 17.4
WENNING, Keith 12 57 182 3.2 3 20 15.2

The first thing I noticed is quarterback Keith Wenning is the fourth best rusher on the 2011 team. If you think that is concerning wait until you hear punter Scott Kovanda is the fifth best rusher. Now that’s comedy.

The 2011 Cardinals did have a saving grace in Jahwan Edwards. The 2010 team had few rushing touchdowns as none of the four are exactly a power back for goal line situations. Edwards is guaranteed three yards every time he touched the ball and that type of consistency can go a long way. Barrington Scott was hurt for a portion of the season hindering his numbers.

The 2011 team did not have any big play potential in their backfield. The longest rush of the season came on a fake punt from Kovanda. No offense to Kovanda but that is offensive to the running backs.

Edwards was given 51 more carries than Williams and only yielded 165 more yards. Williams had the potential to break through the defense for a big play. Edwards did a great job in 2011, but Ball State was asking a lot out of the freshman to counter a lack a depth.

These fans at the bottom were all cheers when Eric Williams scored a touchdown against Eastern Michigan in 2010.

There is no way to tell if Ball State would have won more games if Williams played for the Cards in 2011. But we do know Ball State would have had a big play threat it badly lacked if Williams suited up.

Williams also average 18 yards per catch in 2010 and would have been one heck of a safety valve for Wenning in 2011.

Ball State won more games in 2011 but that had more to do with the development of Wenning.

When Williams touched the ball I had the feeling he could score. Edwards has become the star of the 2011 recruiting class in one short year but does not have that same ability.

Williams could have made an impact at the Northern Illinois loss. Maybe Ball State could have killed the clock better when it had the lead at Northern with Williams. This is all speculation but it is something to think about.

Going forward Ball State needs a guy who can rip a 40-yard run every so often. Maybe Edwards, Scott or transfer Toney Williams can become that type of back but it is hard to tell right now.  It does not matter who, just as long someone breaks through. If the Cardinals want to take the next step from a 6-6 team to an 8-4 team improving the rushing numbers is a must. Most MAC teams can pass the ball so having a ground game will separate the men from the boys.

“I think the backs there have great potential,” Williams said. “If the scheme of the offense fits them I’m sure they will have success.”

All I know for sure is Ball State was better with Williams than it is without him. Hopefully the critics who berated him after he transferred will realize that. There were plenty of casualties of the Stan Parrish era and Ball State fans would be smart not to add to that list.

After this column was posted Monday Williams contacted me again. Here is what he wants to say as a “farewell address.” He told me he wanted this as a way of closure.


Dear BSU fans and whomever else this may concern,

I would like to apologize for the way I left the program last year and in your eyes it may not have been professional but I was a 20-year-old kid lost in distractions off the field that interfered with me on the field. To me football was an outlet away to get away from real life and the confrontation I dealt with made me not love the sport they way I once had.

I have the upmost respect for Coach Lembo and his staff for the record they posted last year and I feel that if I would stayed I would not have done anything but argue and be a distraction to the development of my teammates/ brothers. Do I regret leaving Ball State? Yes, some days I do but taking a year off helped me get my distractions under raps. I have the best g.p.a. I’ve ever had this past year and I’ve been training my behind off with my new teammates at the University of Saint Francis.

I’m helping raise my beautiful 2-year-old son and I still talk to my BSU brothers and support them no matter what. Thank you all for previous support and if you still hate me and feel I was undeserving I understand not many people know my life’s story and I don’t try to lean on my past as a crutch so I say my final goodbyes to you and wish everyone the best.

Farewell, Eric Williams


6 Responses

  1. A couple points from me:

    I liked Eric, was very athletic, definitely a good RB, and was always good to me.

    1. Looking at the top 4 rushers, Ball State had just 22 less carries this past year, or under 2 per game. So Williams left because of the pass-happy offense, yet if (which is a big if) he was the #1 last year, he would have averaged about 1 less carry per game.
    2. Kovanda having the longest run isn’t really an embarrassment to the RBs. His run was 68 yards… longer than Williams’ longest run in 2010.
    3. Williams did have .4 more ypc in 2010 than Jahwan last year, but Edwards was better in the redzone, where it really matters. Ball State doesn’t provide fumble statistics online, but by my memory, Edwards did not fumble last year. I believe Williams had somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 in 2010.
    4. You can’t forget Edwards did all of that as a true freshman, and will continue to improve.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you that the team would have been better with Williams in the backfield. He was an extremely talented player, who at times looked like he belonged in a Big 10 backfield.

    However Ball State took care of the ball better with Edwards and put it in the endzone more, and to be honest with you I think it’s fair to say BSU may be better off with Edwards/T. Williams/Scott than had the transfer not happened. That’s in no way a knock on EW, but a compliment to the guy’s they’ve been able to replace him with.

  2. If he was here he would be on the scout team. Where is he now by the way? Write a story on that!

  3. Well Williams was forced to grow up fast and Pat i agree ball security was an issue with him. @hesafool.. you are mistaken if you think the talent level of Williams is less then the backs there Ive spoken with Williams on several occasions and he is home being a father to his child working hard to get back on the field where he will be graduating next spring at the university of St. Francis. long story short the media can hype up issues and make things worse then they really hard ive know the kid since he was 12 years old and time and time again he has proven that his talent is amazing his story is great but he is to himself and no one is in his personal life. Our student-athletes are human and they do face issues but don’t judge the young man if you do not know him. Go Cougars!

  4. This article makes me regret my recent contribution to this site

  5. Folks, let’s keep in mind Nathan is a student writer trying to get some experience. Whatever your take on the Williams issues, it was a fairly significant thing that’s happened in the Lembo tenure. I personally didn’t like the way it all went down and the immediate reactions both positive and negative and was troubled about the polar opposite sort of opinions that seeped to the surface after that. I think Nathan was able to give Eric a chance to at least put a mature and responsible end to his BSU story.

    @EZ… I’m happy to return any contribution you may have made if you’d like it back. Shoot me an email and let me know.


  6. I don’t even think you can compare Kovanda’s run to typical rushing numbers. That was a trick play that went jackpot. It was perfectly executed by everyone, so he deserves all the credit in the world, but comparing that to average run plays from scrimmage is truly apples-to-oranges.

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