HUNTINGTON - He's not stomping his feet over it - not his punting foot, anyway - but Marshall punter Tyler Williams has a point to make this week in his home state.The 6-foot, 195-pound freshman from Fort Wayne, Ind., wouldn't have minded kicking for Purdue or any other Hoosier State school offering him a scholarship. But, like most others in his trade, he had to find a place to walk on and prove his case.So far, Williams has made a profound statement with the Thundering Herd. After regaining the minimum 3.6 punts per game to qualify for an NCAA ranking, he is fourth in the nation at 47.53 yards per attempt.Fresh off the 54-51 double-overtime win over Rice, Williams and the Herd hit the road again this weekend, taking on Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium. Kickoff time is 3:15 p.m. Saturday, with the game airing on the Big Ten Network.
"I've got a little chip on my shoulder I think," Williams said Monday. "Coming out like I did, I felt like I had a good senior year [in high school] and was a little disappointed that I didn't get any looks, especially no scholarships. I was definitely disappointed. I feel like everything happens for a reason. I'm here for a reason."But it will be neat to go back to my home state and perform well, show everybody and show Purdue what they're missing."About the time Williams uttered that statement, he was honored by Conference USA as the league's special teams player of the week. He averaged 50.8 yards on his five kicks against Rice, pinned the Owls inside their 20-yard line three times and launched bombs of 62 and 66 yards.The 62-yarder came on his first attempt, and it was the most majestic. When the suborbital shot finally came down, the football hit the Rice Stadium floor a perfect pointed-end down. After the ball all but stuck in the turf, the Owls were stuck at their 4-yard line."You only get couple of those, I tell everybody. Nine times out of 10 the ball would have bounced into the end zone," Williams said. "That's hard to beat."
In the second quarter a punt of only 34 yards was just as effective, a coffin-corner kick downed at the Rice 5. That helped deny the Owls a chance at a late touchdown, giving the Herd a 21-14 halftime lead.His final punt was the most critical. Taking the snap from Marshall goal line, he fired the ball past the Rice returner and it rolled to the Owls' 21, good for a career-high 66 yards.His defensive teammates needed every yard. Had that kick been 2 yards shorter, Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue might have cleared the goal line with his shoulder-banging dive at the end of a 47-yard run. One yard shorter and the Owls could have scored on the next play.As it was, Rice settled for a field goal and overtime, where the Herd finally prevailed. In a game where Marshall scored eight touchdowns, punting was as important as anything.And remember, punting was one of the Herd's top questions entering the season."Tyler, his foot is amazing. It's crazy, knowing he's so young," said Herd safety Okechukwu Okoroha. "He helps us out a lot, pinning them down there, just booming it out of the park. He's helping us out a lot; that's what he needs to keep doing."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org