EUGENE — When Oregon needed a big play to keep a drive alive against UCLA, Tyler Shough turned to Devon Williams.
The Ducks quarterback targeted his biggest receiver 11 times on Saturday, completing six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown to Williams, who set career-highs in helping lead No. 11 Oregon to a 38-35 win at Autzen Stadium.
“I probably haven’t been harder on anybody as hard as I’ve been on Devon and I think for reasons where I think it’s the ultimate sign of respect when you really challenge someone,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “His last two weeks of practice, everyone has noticed what a tremendous job he has done pushing himself, learning the system, and practicing and working really, really hard and found some opportunities to make some contested catches that ended up being huge plays as well.”
It was the latest display in the blossoming of Williams, a redshirt-sophomore who began his career at USC and transferred to UO last fall.
He was expected to be Oregon’s starting X receiver this fall and was practicing as such during the shortened spring practice, but opened the season with the second-team. Williams worked primarily as the lead X against the Bruins and delivered two catches over 30 yards and another for a 19-yard score.
“To be pushed like that from the head coach it means a lot to the team and me as well,” Williams said. “Whatever I can do for the team to get wins, that’s what I got to do. He expects nothing but the best from me.”
Most impressive about Williams is his physicality, both as a blocker and receiver. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Williams took on contact while making catches agaisnt Washington State last week, during which he also nearly carried Jaylon Redd into the end zone while blocking for his fellow wide out, and appeared to welcome it while fighting for more yards on a career-long 49-yard grab against UCLA.
“What we get coached in the wide receivers room is either way, between the hashes you’re going to get hit regardless,” Williams said. “That’s our role and we got to make sure we secure the catch. That’s our job.”
Shough called Williams an “electric” player in practice and they’ve worked extensively, along with other wide outs, at improving timing and chemistry.
“I’m really proud of his work and how he showed up,” Shough said, “and all of our wide receivers tonight making explosive plays.”
Keeping Williams at the top of his game is the next step in the process for Oregon. He can be the top target for years to come and make 100-yard games a regular occurrence.
“When a guy had as that much ability, when they’re blessed with that kind of talent, anything less than getting the very best out of them is kind of cheating the gift,” Cristobal said. “He’s done a great job just attacking practices and attacking processes, especially the last two weeks, constantly, consistently has just been