BLACKSBURG—— When Ryan Williams won No. 6 Virginia Tech's starting tailback job in August after Darren Evans went down for the season with a knee injury, gaining Heisman Trophy momentum wasn't one of Williams' goals.
But it's not a stretch to consider Williams' name among a lengthy list of darkhorse contenders for the award. He's sixth in the nation in rushing yards per game (123). When it comes to finding the end zone, only two players in the nation — California's Jahvid Best and Navy's Ricky Dobbs each with nine touchdowns — have done it more than Williams, who has eight.
"(The Heisman Trophy) has been talked about, but I don't really pay any attention to it," said Williams, a 5-foot-10, 206-pound redshirt freshman. "There's thousands and thousands of college football players, and I'm not going to try to chase the Heisman. If anything, I'll let it chase me if the opportunity comes, but I'm not really worried about it. I'm just trying to help the team win."
In a recent poll of 15 ESPN personalities, Williams didn't crack the top 14 in voting. He's listed as a "no current chance to win it, but has finalist potential" candidate by the Web site collegefootballnews.com.
Yet, with Tech entering a soft portion of its schedule (games at Duke and against Boston College on tap), Williams' numbers could continue to improve. Last Saturday, he had 150 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 34 carries in Tech's 31-7 win against Miami.
Williams is on pace to shatter Tech's single-season rushing yardage record for first-year players (Evans ran for 1,265 last season as a redshirt freshman). Williams has 492, so he'd be on track for a school single-season record 1,722 if Tech plays a 14-game slate, including another ACC championship game appearance and a bowl game.
"I just try to run as hard as I can," said Williams, who has had at least one gain of 43 yards or more in each of his four games. "My idol is Walter Payton. His quote was 'Never die easy. Die hard.' He never wanted to go down on the first contact, and that's one thing I try to run by."
Though quarterback Tyrod Taylor only passed nine times against Miami, and showed more inclination to run than he did earlier in the season, he also got great protection from his offensive line. Tech didn't surrender any sacks in a game for the first time since Sept. 16, 2006, in a 36-0 win against Duke.
HOLDING ON TIGHT
Tech leads the ACC in just four of the 31 team statistical categories kept by the conference, but one of the categories stands out above the rest. Tech has turned the ball over only four times, and it's tied with BC for the conference lead with a plus-3 turnover margin.
BUT DON'T BREAK
In the first four games, Tech has given up five touchdowns, which equals the number of touchdowns it gave up in the first two games last season. In '06, Tech's opponents scored just two touchdowns in the first four games.
74 Combined scoring margin in favor of Tech in its last two trips to Duke (Tech won 45-0 in 2005 and 43-14 in '07).