LARAMIE – Hundreds of text messages flooded the phone of University of Wyoming true freshman quarterback Levi Williams following Friday night’s victory over Colorado State.
Williams, a Texas native, saw his first collegiate action in the 111th Border War. He rotated with redshirt sophomore starter Tyler Vander Waal, and created an effective platoon. While the two only combined for 81 passing yards, Williams ran for 49 yards and each scored a rushing touchdown.
Of the messages on his phone, one particularly stuck out. Former Houston head coach Major Applewhite had sent him a note of congratulations. Williams was committed to Houston for nearly a year but, upon a coaching change, decided to decommit, per the Houston Chronicle. Williams, of course, ended up in Laramie and, if his first performance was any indication, will be a big piece of the Cowboys’ offensive puzzle going forward.
Even Applewhite could appreciate that.
“God had a different plan than I thought,” Williams said. “Everything kind of got turned on its head and (I) ended up here and just ended up loving it.”
Vander Waal and Williams bring different things to the table. Vander Waal is more of a pocket passer while, as head coach Craig Bohl said after Friday’s game, Williams provides an added element to the running game that is sorely needed with injuries behind redshirt sophomore Xazavian Valladay. Valladay is currently dealing with a leg injury he suffered against Utah State that held him out of practice for part of last week.
Valladay ran for 154 yards against Colorado State and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in the process and will continue his rehab this week. Running backs Titus Swen and Trey Smith have still not been cleared to play, according to Bohl.
“(Valladay) should be further along next week than what he was this week, which will be encouraging.” Bohl said. “He ran the ball hard, but he certainly wasn’t 100%, and hopefully we’ll get him closer.”
From Williams’ perspective, Vander Waal is a quintessential pocket passer who also has the ability to scramble and make plays. Vander Waal briefly left Friday’s game with an ankle injury but returned.
“I would say (Vander Waal) throws the ball really, really, really well. He is probably one of the most gifted passer I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “I’d say I throw the ball really well. I also bring legs into the equation, which is a little bit different. … I would say we both have a lot of different strengths.”
Sophomore wide receiver Gunner Gentry said seeing Williams finally get into a game after watching him thrive in practice for several months was rewarding.
“It was awesome to see a freshman quarterback get in there and start making plays,” Gentry said. “He was really encouraging for sure, just to see him and see that we have a ton of options at quarterback.”
For Gentry, the biggest difference in Vander Waal and Williams isn’t necessarily arm talent. Williams can make the throws, too. What does makes Williams unique, however, is that he has plays designed for him in the running game. Williams ran for 1,230 yards and 16 touchdowns his senior season at Smithson Valley High in Spring Branch, Texas, in addition to throwing for 3,239 yards and 32 touchdowns.
That isn’t to say Vander Waal can’t run. He is quite mobile, actually. But in the short sample size of Williams compared to Vander Waal, there are more designed runs for the freshman. Vander Waal has a total of 26 carries this season. Williams had 13 in his first career game.
“Williams brings more of just … quarterback run, quarterback read options and those sorts of things in order to kind of spread the field and keep everybody honest,” Gentry said. “I think to kind of have that mix Friday was a really good thing.”
After the Border War, Vander Waal said that the quarterback rotation was handled well. He, however, didn’t see much of a difference when he was out of the game. All he saw were positive results for the offense as a whole.
“I thought it was handled very well … I thought the offense handled it very well,” Vander Waal said. “I think me and Levi are very similar in the way we play. We want the ball in our hands. When I came out, there wasn’t much of a difference between me and him.”