Thursday night provided the country with one final look at (statistically speaking) one of the greatest freshman running backs in the history of college football, Ryan Williams. During the game, he broke the ACC record for touchdowns in a season, and the Virginia Tech record for rushing yards.
Williams provided fans with the most electrifying display of offensive ability at Tech since Michael Vick donned the maroon helmet a decade earlier. After several years of ineptitude on offense, Williams’ running, along with the impressive development of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the receiving corps, led to a breakout season for the that side of the ball.
The numbers speak for themselves: 1,654 rushing yards, 22 total touchdowns, 10 100-yard games, and two four-touchdown performances. That’s the stat line Ryan Williams finished with upon Tech’s 37-14 drubbing of Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
In his first year in the lineup, Williams certainly had a season for the ages. With that said, it brings the question: how does Williams’ season stack up against some of the other greatest in the Frank Beamer era?
Michael Vick 1999
Like Williams, Vick wasted no time making his impact felt on the field, scoring three rushing touchdowns in his first half of football ever. He would continue to complete 59.2 percent of his passes, with 12 touchdowns and 184 yards per game.
Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page and hit you in the face, but Vick’s running ability, coupled with his knack for long-yardage pass plays made him a legend in Blacksburg.
As a runner, Vick carried the ball 108 times for 782 yards, second most on the team. His average of 5.4 yards per carry is the best in school history for a quarterback. He also ran for eight touchdowns.
More important than any individual statistic, Vick led the Hokies to their first-ever undefeated season in the modern era, and a berth in the BCS Championship Game against Florida State.
The Hokies lost the game 46-29, but Vick’s performance on the biggest stage of his Tech career was unforgettable. He completed 15 of 29 passes for 225 yards while also rushing for 97 yards on 23 carries.
Lee Suggs, 2000
Lee Suggs was a redshirt sophomore in 2000, and after scoring then-NCAA record 27 touchdowns on the ground that season, many people wondered if he had started in 1999, the Hokies may have won that national championship game.
Suggs came from nowhere to dominate college football in his first year as a starter. Entering the season, Vick was receiving more face time in the national media than the Backstreet Boys, but it was Suggs who outshined his quarterback for much of the year.
Of the eleven regular season games for the Hokies that year, Suggs scored at least two touchdowns in nine of them. His best performance came in a 37-34 win over Pittsburgh, when he carried the ball 28 times for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
That game was one of the most important of his career, as the Hokies lost Vick to a sprained ankle midway through the third quarter, and had to ride the shoulders of Suggs to a narrow victory.
Two games later, Suggs scored five touchdowns on the ground against Central Florida in a 44-21 win. The five scores were good enough to put Suggs in second-place all-time for rushing touchdowns in a game, behind Tony Francisco’s six-touchdown performance against VMI in 1966.
Suggs capped his season in the Gator Bowl against Clemson, scoring three touchdowns in a 73-yard performance that was largely overshadowed by Vick’s final collegiate game.
DeAngelo Hall, 2002
Hall turned in one of the best seasons ever for a Tech defensive back, scoring three touchdowns but providing much more excitement than simply touchdowns.
Hall intercepted four passes in his sophomore season, returning them for an average of 31 yards, including one touchdown in the season-opener against Arkansas State.
As he was still establishing himself as a lockdown cornerback, Hall quickly became one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country. He averaged 16.4 yards per return, the fifth-best rate in the country. He also scored two touchdowns in the return game.
It’s worth mentioning that prior to that season, Hall registered the fastest 40-yard dash time in program history with a time of 4.15 seconds. With a number like that, it’s no wonder he was one of the most feared players with the ball in his hands that year.
Jim Druckenmiller, 1996
in his senior season at Tech, Druckenmiller capped off an illustrious career as the starting quarterback that included back-to-back Big East championships. The second of those titles came in this season, when he was named first-team all-conference.
He finished the year with 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions. In the Orange Bowl against eventual national champion Nebraska, he completed 16 of his 33 passing attempts for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
The best performance of his season, however, came against East Carolina when he completed 15 of 23 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a nationally televised 35-14 win.
Kevin Jones, 2003
The man whose school record for yards Williams broke, Jones finished with 1,647 yards and 21 touchdowns in his junior season. The statistics are eerily similar to Williams’ in fact. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 126.7 yards per game.
Jones’ best game came against Texas A & M on a Thursday night, when Hurricane Isabel’s wrath had climbed across the Blue Ridge Mountains and ravaged the New River Valley. In a torrential downpour, Jones carried the ball 30 times for 188 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-19 win.
Until Thursday night, Jones’ season was the most productive in school history. Unfortunately for the Hokies, a late-season slide led to a disappointing 8-5 finish, including a 52-49 loss to California in the Insight Bowl.
Jeff King, 2005
King is unquestionably the best tight end to play for the Hokies under Beamer, and second greatest all-time after NFL Hall-of-Famer Carroll Dale.
In 2005, King hauled in 26 passes for 292 yards, including a team-high six touchdowns. He was the security blanket for quarterback Marcus Vick, and was a key component in the Hokies’ ACC Coastal Division title in its inaugural season.
Andre Davis, 1999
As Vick exploded onto the scene in the Hokies’ undefeated season, Davis was just as integral a part of that magical run. His 962 receiving yards still stands as the all-time single season record.
Of the fourteen touchdowns the Hokies threw that season, Davis scored nine of them. His average of 27.5 yards per catch is easily the best all-time at the school.
The most fascinating statistic of all for Davis that season was his rushing numbers. Three carries…72 yards… three touchdowns. The Hokies went to the reverse play with a 100 percent success rate, thanks to Davis. Maybe he should have carried the ball more often…
With all of the aforementioned individual seasons being some of the best in school history, what Williams did this year should rank right at the top. This year falls short of Vick’s unprecedented year in ’99, but is about on the same level of Suggs’ season the following year.
The one important note that separates Williams from all but one other season on this list: the star running back is only a freshman. Not only was this his first year in the maroon and orange, but he was only listed as the third-string running back entering preseason camp.
With the stage set for a spectacular encore in 2010, this list might just have to make way for another unforgettable year for "Lil’ Sweetness".