Mack Brown was standing on the sideline at Kenan Stadium in April 2019, watching his new North Carolina football team run through a spring scrimmage. Next to him was Urban Meyer, the former Ohio State coach, in town to speak at a clinic. The two chatted casually, Brown openly wondering what the future might hold for a team he still knew little about after taking over the program just a few months earlier.
“You’re going to be OK,” Meyer interrupted, pointing toward the field. “No. 8 and No. 25 — they’re special.”
No. 8 was tailback Michael Carter, and Meyer’s praise came as little surprise. Carter was the state of Florida’s offensive player of the year as a senior, and he’d already totaled more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career before Brown arrived.
But No. 25 — Javonte Williams — was more of a mystery.
ESPN ranked Williams the 53rd-best running back in the Class of 2018. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2018, generally used in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
But Meyer saw something more. Williams could pass block, was quick to hit the hole and showed nice hands out of the backfield. Meyer didn’t see a short-yardage back. He saw the total package.
Two years later, the rest of college football is getting a taste of what Meyer noticed during that spring scrimmage in Chapel Hill — even if most of the country has yet to take notice. Williams, the UNC tailback, might just be the best player in the country no one seems to be watching. But that’s likely to change Saturday when the No. 25 Tar Heels host No. 2 Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN App).
“This is a chance for us to show how good we really are,” said Williams, who leads the nation with 18 touchdowns and ranks fifth with 1,115 yards from scrimmage. “But it’s been so long since I’ve had any recognition that it doesn’t faze me. The only recognition I want is a conference championship.”
Williams, who said his goal entering 2020 was to finish with 10 touchdowns, hit that mark in Carolina’s fifth game. He has finished with more than 100 yards from scrimmage six times this year. He’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry, second best in the nation among backs with at least 70 rushes. His broken tackle rate of 40% is easily the best in the country, nearly four times the national average.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Brown said. “And like all the great ones, he gets better as the game goes on.”
A different kind of rivalry week
This isn’t your