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Williams bounces back – in a big way

A week earlier, Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams hung his head and had tears welling in his eyes after his late fumble in a loss to North Carolina. On Thursday night, Williams was all smiles after rushing for a career-high 179 yards in the Hokies' 16-3 win over East Carolina.

“I’m proud of myself,” Williams told reporters when asked how it felt to bounce back. “Words can’t describe how I feel right now, coming from where I was last week. It’s a lot more smiles, right? No bags under the eyes, right?”

With a career night, Williams became only the second freshman rusher in school history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. He has rushed for 1,109 yards this season. Darren Evans ran for 1,265 yards last year.

The only milestone from the previous game was a bad one: Williams fumbled while carrying the ball for the first time this season. He coughed it up with 2 minutes 2 seconds remaining against the Tar Heels, giving them the ball at Virginia Tech’s 24-yard line. That set up Casey Barth’s 21-yard field goal as time expired to give North Carolina the 20-17 win.

Williams was so distraught afterward that he said he could barely fall asleep that night and that he skipped his classes the next morning. But all along, he said he would get over the mistake.

During the week, Williams said, he researched statistics of his favorite players, including Walter Payton, to see how many fumbles he had.

“I just realized that it happens to everybody,” Williams said. “Nobody can be perfect. After I realized that, I came out to practice with the same mentality as always.”

If there were any doubts about Williams’s state of mind, he banished them on Thursday. Williams was his same consistent self. Although he was occasionally stuffed behind the line of scrimmage while trying to turn the corner on the Pirates’ defense, Williams ran with authority and intensity.

“A couple of those runs were amazing,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “They need to be on ESPN tonight, I think.”

The highlight of Williams’s night was a 46-yard run in which he bounced off tacklers and broke away from East Carolina’s defense. It seemed like it set up a Virginia Tech touchdown, but quarterback Tyrod Taylor fumbled after taking off for the goal line. The ball went through the end zone, resulting in a touchback.

But perhaps the only play that matter, in the bigger picture, was the one from a week earlier, the mistake that Williams put behind him for good on Thursday in Greenville, N.C.

“It’s been gone,” Williams said of the fumble. “It was gone last week. Thinking about it right now, it still makes me sick to my stomach. But things happen. I can’t be perfect. But I can try to be as perfect as I can be.”

By Mark Viera  |  November 6, 2009; 9:45 AM ET
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