PHOENIX — Poor Kodi Kieler never had a chance.
The Michigan State right tackle reacted quickly out of his crouching two-point stance, but in a flash Alabama’s Tim Williams was all over him.
The former University High star ducked his right shoulder under Kieler’s arms and spun around 360 degrees. Then with his left arm he basically backhanded the 315-pound blocker to the ground as he set off like a high-speed train in pursuit of Spartans quarterback Connor Cook.
“They’re (bleeping) everywhere,” Cook said of Alabama’s relentless front seven during a 38-0 on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl.
Williams remembers the play.
“It was a technique thing,” Williams said Saturday, paddling through a string of interviews in the din of Alabama’s CFP media day at the Phoenix Convention Center. “I set him up for it.
“I’d been beating him around the edge the whole game, and I knew he was going to jump me. So I was going to take his body and spin him.
“Pass rushing is like a chess game,” Williams explained. “You have to set him up.”
This season, Williams has been checkmating opposing quarterbacks all over the board.
The junior linebacker has 10.5 sacks this season, trailing only Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett (12.5 sacks) and Crimson Tide teammate Jonathan Allen (12). He’s been credited with at least half a sack in all but two of Alabama’s games (Tennessee and Charleston Southern).
What’s most remarkable about Williams’ wrecking ball-like productivity is he hasn’t started a game for Alabama all season. A reporter covering Alabama estimates Williams averages about 10 snaps per game.
He’s a role player in the Crimson Tide’s magnificent front seven, specializing in third-and-long mayhem that would make that guy in the Allstate commercials envious.
Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell doesn’t know every opposing player’s name, but he does know Bama’s No. 56 from the game film.
“I know exactly who you’re talking about,” said Caldwell, whose charges will have the task of slowing down Bama’s pass rush in Monday night’s CFP National Championship Game. “They’ve got about 10 they rotate through there. He’s very special, a speed rusher coming off the edge.”
Though he came to Alabama as a highly sought after recruit, ranked No. 36 nationally on the 2013 ESPN 150, Williams was no overnight sensation in Tuscaloosa.
He played in seven games as a freshman, managing just three tackles. In 2014 he played in 12 games but had just five tackles with 1.5 sacks.
The 2015 season basically saw a reboot of Williams’ effort and physical ability. He gained about 25 pounds to go from 230 to 255 and finally grasped Nick Saban’s complex defensive system.
“I came in knowing I was a pass rusher, but I didn’t have good study habits,” Williams said.
“It’s being able to balance speed and edge strength, gaining weight and gaining power while being a little more explosive.”
U-High coach Chad Mahaffey always knew Williams could develop into an outstanding player.
“I think he’s always been a pretty special pass rusher,” Mahaffey said. “The challenge going to that level of football is to add a little weight to battle those big guys, and learning a system as complex as coach Saban’s takes some time.
“He’s got such pure speed and explosiveness. It looks like he’s done a good job developing those moves.”
The decision after Monday night facing Williams is whether or not to return for his senior season.
He said he hasn’t completely made his mind up, though the prospect of being an every down player as a senior does have its appeal.
“Coach Saban told me I can go to the (NFL) as a specialist,” he said, “but I can come back and show them what I can do on first and second down.”
Saban for his part spoke Saturday of players buying in to the Crimson Tide’s team concept this season. He was able to cite Williams as Exhibit A.
“I think that we have a lot of players like that on our team this year,” Saban said. “That’s what makes it a great team. People are not just about ‘me;’ they’re about what can I do to contribute to the success of the team, and certainly Tim has had a lot of success being sort of a third-down pass rush guy for us. That’s what he does extremely well, and I think the challenge for him and for us in the future is to expand that role so that he can be an every-down player, because that would benefit him and us in the future.”
An even better Tim Williams. Offensive tackles are already shuddering at the thought.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.