Malcolm Williams

Malcolm Williams should have been dominant. He would have been a future NFL receiver. He could have been big this year.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Williams’ four-catch, 182-yard, two-touchdown game, the only silver lining in a 2008 loss to Texas Tech, was no small introduction. It had people buzzing; here’s the second coming of Roy Williams, and Texas’ best big receiver since Limas Sweed. The perfect compliment to Jordan Shipley. He can be a quarterback’s favorite toy. Look at that body. Look at that speed, that leaping ability.

What happened?

Williams’ career unfairly became not a story of what he did, but what he could do. Oh, we saw flashes after his performance as a redshirt freshman against Tech. He caught nine balls for 132 yards as a sophomore in a big Texas A&M game, snagged a long Hail Mary versus Florida Atlantic last year, was always monster on special teams. Each of those games showed he had the ability to make an impact game-by-game and not be just a one-game-a-season force. He never tied it all together, despite offseason after offseason in which we heard murmurs that Williams was ready to break out.

He could not match that breakout performance against Tech — though that would be pretty tough to do, considering his 182-yard-performance ranks sixth in UT’s single-game record books. But not much ever came close either. It’s not necessarily Malcolm’s fault, just the nature of the expectations beast: “I’ve seen you do it once. Now, do it again. And again.”

The news that his Longhorn career is over is uncomfortable (Williams is doing the right thing in dealing with his family situation and his academics, those should always come before football). He was going be an offensive factor as a senior this upcoming season, but not a big one. He was not to be confused with the team’s top pass-catcher, and was going to be a halfback — so he wouldn’t have even ended his career as a true wideout. The Longhorns will miss his leadership and great special teams ability, but it’s not an absence that will be lamented. In 2008, Williams finished sixth on the team in receptions. In 2009, his best year, he ended the season as the Longhorns’ fourth-leading receiver. The 2010 season saw a regression of sorts with just 24 receptions.

He was a great big-play threat, with a career average of 15 yards per catch. On the other hand, Williams had career-long problems with dropped passes with three crucial ones against Alabama. If he could have put it all together — the 6-foot-3 body, excellent athletic ability and toughness — he could have been more than a one-trick pony. Let him beat his defender, throw it long and pray he catches it.

Perhaps senior running back Fozzy Whittaker spoke best on behalf of Longhorn Nation the day it was announced that Williams had decided to hang ‘em up:

“We thought Malcolm could hopefully be one of those NFL-type receivers for us this year.”

Didn’t pan out like that. Never quite has.

Printed on Monday, August 8th, 2011 as: Williams never able to reach full potential

Malcolm Williams, No. 9, recovers a fumble against Rice last year. Williams will forego his senior season to focus on family and school. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Derek Stout | Daily Texan Staff

With the 2011 season right around the corner, several question marks surround Mack Brown’s revamped team, but the corps of wide receivers was never supposed to be one of them.

Just a few months ago, the Longhorns were in line to return several experienced receivers to go along with several hot shots in the new recruiting class.

On the first day of fall workouts, senior Malcolm Williams became the fourth Longhorn receiver this summer to announce that he will not return to the field for the 2011 season. In a press conference, Texas head coach Mack Brown cited family issues as well as academics as the reason for Williams’ departure.

“We decided that he needed to focus on academics and his family, and get those things back in order,” Brown said. “He’s had some tough things happen, things that would be tough for all of us, and then got tougher this summer.”

Juniors Brock Fitzhenry and Marquise Goodwin, along with sophomore Greg Timmons, are the other three receivers not returning to the team. Goodwin has elected to redshirt this season in order to pursue track and field in hopes of earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Timmons announced in June that he would be transferring in order to pursue different opportunities elsewhere. The coaches have yet to give a reason for Fitzhenry’s departure, thought it’s unlikely the former Giddings quarterback would have seen much playing time this season.

Last year, Williams connected with quarterback Garrett Gilbert 24 times for a total of 334 yards and two scores. In 2009, he grabbed 39 receptions for 550 yards.

“[He was a] good leader, one of the best special teamers we had,” Brown said. “A great smile, one of the guys who worked hard for us.”

Williams would have been the only senior receiver on the roster. His experience and leadership on and off the field will be sorely missed by his teammates.

“Malcolm’s a great guy to have around,” said junior defensive end Alex Okafor. “You’re always going to have a good time around him. It’s sad.”

Only seven receivers remain on scholarship. Of those seven, only three have seen playing time — sophomores Mike Davis and Darius White and junior DeSean Hales. Bryant Jackson, a redshirt freshman, is rumored to be making the switch to wideout after being recruited as a defensive back, while Jaxon Shipley and Miles Onyegbule might be asked to play big minutes as true freshmen because of Williams’ departure.

“It’s one of those things where you pray for him and wish him the best,” said senior running back Fozzy Whittaker. “I’m sad, but I know that everything happens for a reason. He can always depend on us if he ever needs anything.”

Printed on Monday, August 8th, 2011 as: Receiving corps takes another blow

Senior wide receiver Malcolm Williams practiced this week for the first time this spring after sitting out with what head coach Mack Brown called a “family issue.”

Williams has been a veteran presence at practice in the first half of spring camp, assisting new wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt as he gets acclimated to a young corps of wide outs.

“We’re really happy to have him back. He’s a great leader for us,” said Brown. “He’s gained some weight. He can play the H-back position. He can play the wide receiver position. He can play a lot of things for us and he’s doing well in those areas.”

The Garland native is the Longhorns’ leading returning receiver, with 80 catches for 1,118 yards and seven touchdowns in his three-year career. Williams is also a fixture on special teams and is the elder statesman of the Texas receivers. The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder should shore up a position that gave the Longhorns trouble a season ago with a number of untimely dropped passes.

“He gives us great leadership, outside of just the receiving position,” Brown said. “But he also gives us one of the best special teams players in the country.”

<strong>Brown focusing on run game</strong>

Texas’ poor performance on the ground over the past few seasons certainly hasn’t been lost on the Longhorns’ head coach, who said his teams have failed to run the ball consistently for four years.

Brown placed most of the burden on the offensive line to get things right this year, as the Longhorns continue to adapt to new co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. Brown noted the hardest part for the offense this spring has been line play, but that isn’t stopping him from stressing the importance of the running game.

“We’re going to run the ball and we are going to run it well, and it’s going to take a while because it’s a transition,” Brown said. “It’s a whole lot for the offensive line, and we only have eight scholarship offensive linemen healthy so we’re really thin there.”

Injuries have also taken a toll on the ball carriers, but not the usual suspects. The oft-injured Fozzy Whittaker has turned heads this spring and has stayed off the injury report.

“Fozzy has looked great, not good. We’re really excited about him, and he’s stayed healthy so far,” Brown said. “He really looks the best I have ever seen him look.”

Instead, the injury bug bit redshirt freshman Traylon Shead and junior Jeremy Hills. Shead pulled his hamstring and missed the Longhorns’ last scrimmage, while Hills missed time with a pulled groin.

Fifth-year senior Cody Johnson is working almost exclusively at fullback but has gotten reps at tailback this spring, as the coaching staff plans to use him in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Junior speedster D.J. Monroe, the most elusive of Texas’ backs, joined the team for practice this week after missing the opening of spring camp because of track-and-field commitments.

<strong>Horns get talk from Navy official</strong>

The assistant secretary of the Navy, Juan Garcia, greeted the Longhorns on Wednesday morning before practice. Garcia, who was in town for a lecture, spoke to the team about becoming leaders and took time to meet the players and coaching staff.

“It was a great meeting. It was fun, and I told him how much we appreciate him and all the guys and ladies that are across the world trying to help us stay safe,” Brown said. “We got some tips on leadership, which was good as well.”

The Longhorns lacked consistent leadership a year ago, and the coaching staff has put a larger emphasis on that dynamic this spring.

“We’ve got to compete hard every play and we didn’t all the time last year,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get that culture out of here.”

Garrett Gilbert stepped back and calmly squinted toward the end zone.

The play is called “Berlin,” and the Longhorns run it at the end of every Thursday practice. It’s a desperation play that rarely works, even in practice.

“Only on video games,” said receiver James Kirkendoll.

But already leading Florida Atlantic 17-7 with one play left in the first half, Texas decided to give it a shot. With virtually no pass rush pressure, Gilbert had plenty of time to let his receivers
get downfield.

“It’s pretty much a play where everybody runs to the end zone, and he just puts it up there,” said receiver Malcolm Williams.

Standing 53 yards from a miracle but wearing none of his usual pressure, Gilbert reared back and hurled it deep. Time expired as the ball floated and floated in the air, making its way toward a pack of receivers and defenders waiting patiently in the anticipated landing zone.

“It felt like I was sitting there forever,” Williams said. “I kind of wanted to go get a hot dog.”

But instead, Williams stayed in the back of a pack of players, and full of faith, he simply put his hands up — didn’t jump, didn’t move. When the ball somehow stuck to his hands for the touchdown, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium erupted in ecstatic disbelief. With the way this season has gone for the Longhorns, most people watching expected an interception or an incompletion on the Hail Mary play.

“In 38 years, that was the first time I’ve ever completed one,” said offensive coordinator Greg Davis. “That doesn’t happen very often, but Garrett threw a perfect ball, and Malcolm went on top of everybody and got it.”

Gilbert triumphantly pumped his fists in celebration, as if he were thinking, “Finally.” In his 10-month tenure as Texas’ quarterback, he hasn’t had many of those plays. Entering the game having thrown more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and dealing with receivers that have consistently dropped passes, Gilbert was in unfamiliar territory as he ran into the halftime locker room.

“I honestly couldn’t tell it was Malcolm that caught it,” Gilbert said. “But then I heard the crowd, and by that time, I was pretty excited and running down the sideline.”

Williams said if it were his decision, the catch would’ve easily made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays, preferably in the top five. The play didn’t get that kind of love, probably because of unranked Texas’ irrelevance on the national landscape. But regardless of how the Longhorns are perceived outside of their locker room, Saturday night’s 51-17 victory has the inside believing the season has finally turned around with one game to spare and bowl eligibility on the line. Texas head coach Mack Brown said the play epitomized the game, and the Longhorns are hoping that it will represent a strong finish to a miserable season.

They’re still in a 5-6 hole on the season, but Williams’ catch could go a long way for a team that finally has momentum.

“That was the point where we could finally say, ‘Let’s have fun,’” Williams said. “Things are finally starting to go our way. Everybody sees now that we’re having fun; we can come up with those plays. This was a big momentum for all of us.” 

When time expired in Texas’ 51-17 victory over Florida Atlantic, a jubilant Malcolm Williams sprinted from the sideline to the bleachers to celebrate with fans.

“It was finally time to have fun,” said Williams, who was on the verge of tears a week earlier after Texas’ fourth consecutive loss.

Finally getting to watch the lighting of the Tower after the victory was an emotional sight for both the players and coaches. The sentiment that the win came against a lowly non-conference, 4-6 team was non-existent in Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium where the Longhorns (5-6, 2-5) had not won in more than two months.

“None of this had to do with who we were playing,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We’ve lost to some poor teams this season – tonight was about us.”

Facing the 63rd-ranked Florida Atlantic defense gave the Longhorns’ offense plenty of confidence throughout the game. Texas gained a total of 522 yards, including a balanced 263 passing and 259 rushing. Garrett Gilbert had his best game in a Texas uniform, completing 15-of-21 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and rushing for 60 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.

He played “near perfect,” by Brown’s standards, and the sophomore quarterback described the celebratory post-game locker room, something he hasn’t seen much this season.

“The excitement in there was awesome,” Gilbert said. “It was definitely something we could all get used to.”

One of the biggest departures from the earlier woes of 2010 was an established rushing attack. Playing without previous starters Fozzy Whittaker and Tre’ Newton, Cody Johnson became Texas’ first 100-yard rusher of the season, powering his way to 124 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.

“We needed a back around here that could carry the load and Cody did just that tonight,” Brown said. “I’m really proud of him.”

Johnson wore a huge grin after the game and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief with every answer.

“I feel great,” Johnson said. “It’s no secret that we’ve been on a losing streak, and there’s no better feeling than to end it here tonight. We came together on all pieces of the game, and that’s definitely something to be proud of.”

Even Texas’ receivers, who have been widely criticized for dropped passes and a lack of focus came through in the game. James Kirkendoll had a 63-yard reception, and Williams had the play of the year on a Hail Mary heave to the end zone to end the first half, big plays that gave Texas an edge that Florida Atlantic never could overcome.

“It’s crazy that it took us so long to finally get on this page,” Kirkendoll said. “But hey, you’re only as good as you’re last play.”

With bowl eligibility on the line, the Longhorns will look to carry that momentum into the regular season finale on Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day rivalry match against No. 19 Texas A&M, which began a game against No. 6 Nebraska an hour after Texas’ game was decided.

“We asked the guys to leave here and get a pencil and paper and watch Texas A&M to write down what they can do to help us win,” Brown said. “But this game definitely gives our guys tremendous confidence they’ll need.”
 

The Longhorn offense has been deathly ill this season, but the good news is the coaches think they’ve finally found the diagnosis — they’re not scoring enough.


But it’s not quite that simple. The Longhorns are moving the ball down the field, but when they get inside the 20-yard line, they choke. So why can’t they score in the red zone?

“I think there are a couple of things,” said offensive coordinator Greg Davis. “One, I think I’ve been a little conservative in the red zone trying to get points. I think there are some opportunities that we had that we didn’t come up with. So we’re going to look at a few things and see if we can give our guys some better chances.”

The truly curious thing is the fact that they’re getting enough yards to score. Texas ranks a mediocre 69th in the nation in yards and a distant 82nd in scoring. At this point last year, the Longhorns had reached the red zone 38 times, scoring 24 touchdowns. Fast-forward to this season’s nightmare, and they’ve reached the red zone 36 times but only scored 15 touchdowns.

“We’ve been able to move the ball down the field pretty well,” said left tackle Kyle Hix. “We just have to be more productive in the red zone and get touchdowns instead of field goals.”

While kicker Justin Tucker racks it up and leads the team in scoring, the rest of Texas’ offense fails miserably. Nearly every regular starter has been responsible for at least one blown touchdown. Whether it’s an interception, a dropped pass, a false start or a bad run, everybody hurts.

“I don’t think it’s one particular reason,” said running back Tre’ Newton. “We’ve just been making mistakes and not executing. I feel like we’ve been hurting ourselves more than anything. We just need to focus more and try to come away with touchdowns.”

It doesn’t matter how much the players and coaches focus on it week in and week out, the Longhorns somehow find a way to come up short. Many have blamed the lack of scoring on Davis’ play-calling, but at some point, the players have to take some of the responsibility.

“The coaches have put a big emphasis on finding the end zone and scoring more touchdowns, especially in the red zone,” Newton said. “I’m sure they’ll have a great game plan for us, and it’s our job to execute that game plan which will hopefully lead to more touchdowns.”

Some have suggested the Longhorns simply place too much pressure on themselves when they’re threatening. Most of their struggles have come at home in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium when 100,000 rowdy fans are on edge, waiting to erupt at a score. Even the Texas Cowboys have prematurely fired Smokey the Cannon several times this season in anticipation of a score that didn’t happen.

“We just need to relax, have fun and execute,” said receiver Malcolm Williams. “It seems like sometimes we get in the red zone and start to get tight. We just really need to go in there and keep pushing forward.”

The toughest part about the lack of red zone scoring is the fact that no one entity is at fault. It’s everyone and anyone near the playing field. But it won’t get much easier this weekend in Kansas State against a defense that has allowed just 11 touchdowns in 25 trips for opponents. They rank 104th in yards allowed and 66th in points allowed. But regardless of how many yards the Longhorns can get, the only number that matters is the score.

“For the last couple of weeks, we have said that there is an area that we need to improve,” Davis said. “We’re just not getting touchdowns.”The Longhorn offense has been deathly ill this season, but the good news is the coaches think they’ve finally found the diagnosis — they’re not scoring enough.

But it’s not quite that simple. The Longhorns are moving the ball down the field, but when they get inside the 20-yard line, they choke. So why can’t they score in the red zone?

“I think there are a couple of things,” said offensive coordinator Greg Davis. “One, I think I’ve been a little conservative in the red zone trying to get points. I think there are some opportunities that we had that we didn’t come up with. So we’re going to look at a few things and see if we can give our guys some better chances.”

The truly curious thing is the fact that they’re getting enough yards to score. Texas ranks a mediocre 69th in the nation in yards and a distant 82nd in scoring. At this point last year, the Longhorns had reached the red zone 38 times, scoring 24 touchdowns. Fast-forward to this season’s nightmare, and they’ve reached the red zone 36 times but only scored 15 touchdowns.

“We’ve been able to move the ball down the field pretty well,” said left tackle Kyle Hix. “We just have to be more productive in the red zone and get touchdowns instead of field goals.”

While kicker Justin Tucker racks it up and leads the team in scoring, the rest of Texas’ offense fails miserably. Nearly every regular starter has been responsible for at least one blown touchdown. Whether it’s an interception, a dropped pass, a false start or a bad run, everybody hurts.

“I don’t think it’s one particular reason,” said running back Tre’ Newton. “We’ve just been making mistakes and not executing. I feel like we’ve been hurting ourselves more than anything. We just need to focus more and try to come away with touchdowns.”

It doesn’t matter how much the players and coaches focus on it week in and week out, the Longhorns somehow find a way to come up short. Many have blamed the lack of scoring on Davis’ play-calling, but at some point, the players have to take some of the responsibility.

“The coaches have put a big emphasis on finding the end zone and scoring more touchdowns, especially in the red zone,” Newton said. “I’m sure they’ll have a great game plan for us, and it’s our job to execute that game plan which will hopefully lead to more touchdowns.”

Some have suggested the Longhorns simply place too much pressure on themselves when they’re threatening. Most of their struggles have come at home in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium when 100,000 rowdy fans are on edge, waiting to erupt at a score. Even the Texas Cowboys have prematurely fired Smokey the Cannon several times this season in anticipation of a score that didn’t happen.

“We just need to relax, have fun and execute,” said receiver Malcolm Williams. “It seems like sometimes we get in the red zone and start to get tight. We just really need to go in there and keep pushing forward.”

The toughest part about the lack of red zone scoring is the fact that no one entity is at fault. It’s everyone and anyone near the playing field. But it won’t get much easier this weekend in Kansas State against a defense that has allowed just 11 touchdowns in 25 trips for opponents. They rank 104th in yards allowed and 66th in points allowed. But regardless of how many yards the Longhorns can get, the only number that matters is the score.

“For the last couple of weeks, we have said that there is an area that we need to improve,” Davis said. “We’re just not getting touchdowns.”

The Longhorns don’t play with passion. Senior defensive end Eddie Jones can hook his horns and sing “Texas Fight” after losing to Iowa State and his fellow end Sam Acho can pump his fist after making a tackle, but as a whole, the team does not play with a passion or a purpose.

And head coach Mack Brown knows it. He could feel it in August.

“I worry about this team,” Brown said. “On the first Wednesday scrimmage we had this year, I said that we didn’t see the emotion from players.”

Because the Longhorns have had nine consecutive 10-win seasons, they assumed this year wouldn’t be any different. But things aren’t looking so rosy right now and the players are learning that just because they wear a longhorn on their helmets doesn’t mean wins are guaranteed. This season, entitlement won’t get them anywhere. It’s going to take more dedication and energy than ever before.

As the old saying goes, “You play how you practice,” and junior receiver Malcolm Williams admitted that the energy levels have been lower than usual at practice all year.

“It’s been there at times, but it’s been more sketchy,” Williams said. “Some days it’s there, others it’s not and in the past, it’s always been there. We always found a way to bring it. Even at 6 a.m. practices we found a way.”

The enthusiasm was there in the past because of leadership. Players like Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo and Colt McCoy never would have stood for indifference. In fact, those players were ready to call out their teammates if need be.

Brown recalled the 2008 Fiesta Bowl when Texas was about to play Ohio State. He was worried his team didn’t have an edge in pre-game, but then he heard a lot of commotion coming from the locker room.

“I heard all this ruckus and I turned to [strength and conditioning coach Jeff Madden] and I say, ‘Jeff, something’s happening in there, go see what’s going on. It sounds like a fight,’” Brown said. “So he goes in and walks back out with a smile on his face and he says, ‘Uh, no coach, it’s Roy [Miller]. He’s just getting everyone ready to play.’ He was throwing trash cans and screaming.”

This team may not be the type to throw trash cans, but a few players discussed what they are going to do this week to change the overall attitude.

“Now is the time where it’s not a time to be comfortable,” he said. “Everybody has to get out of their comfort zone whether that’s in their leadership styles or in their style of play. You have to be uncomfortable in order to grow.”

Williams said that he is going to lead by example.

“It’s not just about being vocal anymore, it’s my actions, too,” Williams said. “Every time I step out on the field, I try to go to work and work my hardest.”

Senior receiver John Chiles is going let the rest of the team know they still have a lot to play for.

“We have to keep playing each and every game like we are going to win the national championship,” he said. “We have to keep on playing, keep on going, keep on working hard and gel as a team.”