Gophers coach P.J. Fleck found an old button and sat it on the his office desk in the days leading up to their meeting with Nebraska. It was a button of running back Bryce Williams from his youth football days, given to Fleck by Williams' mother the day he committed.
"Pulled it out this week. Put it on my desk," Fleck said. "Just let it sit there. Because I knew he was going to have to have a big week for us."
With the Gophers down to their third options at running back following season-ending injuries to Mo Ibrahim and Trey Potts, Williams was needed to contribute like he did as a true freshman in 2018. And No. 21 didn't forget how to carry the load.
Williams rushed for 127 yards on 17 carries on Saturday, including a 56-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that sealed the Gophers' 30-23 win over Nebraska.
This is the same Bryce Williams who rushed for 502 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman, redshirted in 2019 then could not catch up with the Ibrahim express in 2020 then lost out to Potts power earlier this year. With those two now down, Fleck is left with the experienced Williams, freshman Mar'Keise "Bucky" Irving and redshirt freshman Ky Thomas to sustain a running game. Fleck went with experience.
"You got a true freshman and a freshman who really haven't had a lot on their plate," Fleck said. "When it came down to not who I trusted, but, in those moments he found it, 21."
Irving and Thomas each had seven carries in the game, gaining 28 and 23 yards, respectively. All three will get carries going forward. But Williams showed on Saturday that he deserves the majority of the workload.
It was a big week for Williams, as players celebrated when he was named a team captain during preparation for the Cornhuskers. He then had a flashback performance to help the Gophers get to 4-2.
"I told him after the touchdown, 'I know it hasn't always been the easiest for you but you always do the right thing,' " Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan said. "And it almost made me a little emotional because it was really cool to see."