TUSCALOOSA — It might look like a gimmick when Alabama inserts noseguard Jesse Williams into its goal-line offense at fullback, but the Tide swears it isn’t.
The results show it isn’t, either. In Saturday’s 49-0 win over Auburn, Alabama put Williams into the game at fullback three times. All three times, Williams knocked his man several steps into the end zone and the Tide scored.
Even without that, it’s fun to see the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Australian charge onto the field, ready for a little action on offense. Wearing No. 54 and with white, black or red paint on his face, he sends off a different vibe than most in the backfield.
“When they see me run out, the crowd goes crazy, and I’m not sure why,” he said. “I don’t get the ball.”
Alabama began working with Williams at fullback in the preseason, but the Tide didn’t use it in a game until the third contest of the year. That came after running back Jalston Fowler, the Tide’s top option at fullback, went down with a knee injury. Now as second-ranked Alabama prepares to face No. 3 Georgia in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game, Williams has grown accustomed to getting called for fullback duty one to three times each contest.
“Whenever we get down on the 1-yard line I go in there and try to hit people,” he said. “It’s been fun for me. Defense is more fun for me, but to be able to open it up and help on that side of the ball as well is helpful.”
Alabama players say more than the crowd looks up and watches when he enters. In fact, when the Tide ran the goal-line package against Arkansas earlier this year, Williams went left even though Alabama had called a play for running back Eddie Lacy to run to the right.
However, much of Arkansas’ defense crowded after Williams, leaving Lacy almost alone for the touchdown.
“It’s actually good because the whole defense just sucks into him so, you know, we basically get to score a lot of times without getting hit,” Lacy said.
Williams has noticed it, too.
“When I see the defense, I see every linebacker staring at me, and they’re waiting to tackle me,” Williams said. “Obviously, I know I’m not going to get the ball, but I know it helps as a big diversion for Eddie and T.J. (Yeldon) back there.”
Typically, Alabama assigns Williams one specific player to block, rather than asking him to clear our a particular zone. Against Auburn, he matched up twice with redshirt freshman linebacker Kris Frost, who is two inches shorter and about a 100 pounds lighter than Williams. Frost didn’t win the battle either time.
Williams joked that sometimes he has to get through an opening between tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (311 pounds) and guard Chance Warmack (320 pounds).
“Obviously, different play, different guy (to block), but I try to squeeze my way through Cyrus and Chance most of the time to get anyone,” Williams said. “The last few times I’ve come off pretty lucky. They’ve opened it up pretty good for me.”
Early in the season, Williams lobbied to get the ball. He said he wanted to catch a pass.
“I’ve kind of given up on that idea, me getting the ball,” he said. “I just go out there and, whatever play is called, just try to hit someone as hard as I can.”
Even though he just blocks, Williams has more than the fans cheering when he takes the field on offense. He seems popular with his teammates, who smile whenever they’re asked about Williams or his goal-line exploits.
“He’s a guy that’s just a cool guy -- laid back, honest, trustworthy guy,” Alabama defensive end Damion Square said.