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Utah's Joe Williams on the verge of 1,000 yards rushing — even after missing a month

SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Williams is on the cusp of becoming just the 13th player in University of Utah history to rush for 1,000 yards. The senior needs only 61 yards to join former Utes John White, Devontae Booker, Carl Monroe, Dameon Hunter, Darrell Mack, Mike Anderson, Del Rodgers, Quinton Ganther, Keith Williams, Eddie Wide, Eddie Johnson and Eddie Lewis in reaching the milestone.

“It’ll be an honor just to be included with those 12 guys,” he said. “It just goes to show you what type of team we have. We’re going to do everything in our power just to be able to run the football and just be a complete offense.”

Joe Williams, though, has taken a most unusual path to the verge of 1,000 yards. His four-game retirement early in the season made such an accomplishment improbable.

“It’s a unique way to get 1,000 yards, if, in fact, he gets there which we expect him to,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s right there with those other backs.”

Whittingham added that Williams may be the most explosive and fastest ball carrier that Utah has had as far as being “a home run type of a back that can go the distance from anywhere on the field.”

In four games since returning to the team, Williams has netted 864 yards. He credits the offensive line for his success.

“I always tip my hat off to them,” Williams said. “It makes my job a lot easier.”

Entering Saturday’s home finale against Oregon, Williams is on pace to shatter the school record for rushing yards per game. He’s currently averaging 156.5 yards, well ahead of the 137 yards Monroe averaged in 1982.

Williams acknowledged that the two biggest goals for a running back are 100 yards per game and 1,000 yards in a season. Last month against UCLA, Williams put himself well ahead of the curve. He rushed for a school-record 332 yards and was named Walter Camp national Offensive Player of the Week.

Utah quarterback Troy Williams admits that the whole situation is kind of crazy.

“That just goes to show that the guy has a whole other mindset when he came back,” Troy Williams said. “He’s relentless right now. He’s playing with a lot of passion. He’s playing for the team. So I feel like everything he has is well deserved.”

The signal caller added that he’s very glad to watch Joe Williams embark on 1,000 yards.

Utah assistant head coach Dennis Erickson, who oversees the running back position, hasn’t seen anything like it during his lengthy career in football.

“It’s kind of an amazing story. I mean, I don’t know that you’ll probably ever see it again — how everything happened and how he came back and how he’s playing,” Erickson said. “He’s on a mission. He’s so much better than he was in fall camp, for whatever reason I don’t have an answer to that. If I did I’d be a psychologist. He’s having a heck of a year.”

Erickson explained that Williams has a different attitude, he’s running more physical and practicing harder since rejoining the team.

“Everything is different about him right now,” Erickson said.

And in a good way, obviously,

“What an accomplishment when you figure the chunk of time that he missed. It’s incredible that he’s going to be able to, hopefully, eclipse that 1,000-yard mark,” Whittingham said. “He’s just been running incredibly well the last four games and almost had 1,000 yards just in those four games.”

*****

Oregon (3-7, 1-6) at No. 11 Utah (8-2, 5-2)

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer