Brian Murphy: ‘Little dude’ provides needed spark for Boise State

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comSeptember 8, 2013 

Lighting in a bottle: Williams-Rhoades had a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns Saturday.

BY DARIN OSWALD / DOSWALD@IDAHOSTATESMAN.COM

Finally freed of the cast on his left hand, Shane Williams-Rhodes spent much of Saturday running free on the Bronco Stadium blue turf.

A jolt from the diminutive speedster was just what the Boise State offense needed in its home debut, after going without a touchdown in the season opener at Washington.

Williams-Rhodes, a sophomore, had his best college game, accumulating a career-high 186 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the 63-14 rout of UT Martin.

“That little dude, he changes direction so quickly. It’s so frustrating during practice, but you love that guy during the game,” Boise State cornerback Bryan Douglas said.

That little dude — at 5-foot-6, Williams-Rhodes is the shortest player in the program — is going to be a big part of the Broncos’ attack this season.

Or, at least, he should be.

Williams-Rhodes gives the Broncos a dimension that no other player does, one that was missing against Washington.

“He’s kind of lightning in a bottle,” coach Chris Petersen said. “He is a hard guy to corral.”

Said offensive coordinator Robert Prince: “It’s very hard, at times, to go 80 yards 4 yards at a time. With Shane, every time he touches the ball it can be an explosive play.”

Williams-Rhodes, who took No. 11 after quarterback Kellen Moore departed the program, played sparingly on offense in the opener because of the lingering effects from a fracture in his left hand suffered during fall practice.

He played with a cast on and did not get his first touches on offense until late in the fourth quarter. Washington, burned by a long kickoff return by Williams-Rhodes in the fourth quarter of last year’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, also avoided him in the return game. He finished with two receptions for 19 yards.

“(Coaches) told me we were testing the waters a little bit last week to see what we could get. And it looked pretty good, so (they) gave me a lot more opportunities,” Williams-Rhodes said.

This week, he ditched the cast — and found a bigger role. He had seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns, two rushing attempts for 26 yards and three punt returns for 71 yards, including a 43-yard return.

His career-high 12 “touches” — football parlance for catches, rushes and returns — resulted in 186 yards. The Broncos handed him the ball on a fly sweep, ran the option with him, tossed him the ball on a wide receiver screen and found him on a more traditional downfield pass route.

“I just feel like I have my role. It will probably be limited, but I’ve got to make big plays when I get the chance,” Williams-Rhodes said. “I’ve kind of been playing this role my whole life: special teams, kickoff returner, punt returner, receiver, little bit of running back. I like being able to be diverse in the offense.”

His official position is wide receiver, but Williams-Rhodes considers himself “a wide receiver-slash-athlete.” Prince said he is a wide receiver who “becomes a running back” once he gets the ball in his hands.

Whatever they call him, the Broncos need to keep calling his number. Petersen and Prince said they don’t have a specific number of touches in mind for Williams-Rhodes, but game-planning involves thinking about ways to get him the ball.

On Williams-Rhodes’ 30-yard touchdown reception at the end of the second quarter, quarterback Joe Southwick adjusted the play call to get him the ball in a favorable matchup.

“We just have plays that we feel he might have a high percentage of touching the ball,” Prince said. “It starts with the quarterback going to the right spot, and we just go from there.”

For an offense desperate for big plays against tougher competition — the Broncos’ longest offensive play against Washington was 18 yards — a cast-free Williams-Rhodes is the most obvious answer.

Keep letting that little dude provide lightning in a bottle. Keep letting Slash get the ball in a variety of ways. Keep letting a new No. 11 find a way to get the Broncos into the end zone.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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