CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Northern Iowa’s coaches know the value of the defensive tackle called “X.”
Saturday afternoon, Xavier Williams helped solve a problem — the lack of a consistent pass rush — with some guidance from head coach Mark Farley and defensive line coach Bryce Paup.
The Panthers had collected just three sacks in their opening two losses. While UNI hammered Northern Colorado 46-7 in the UNI-Dome opener, the defense sacked UNC quarterback Sean Rubalcaba seven times.
Williams, the 6-foot-4, 309-pound senior, led the charge by knocking down Rubalcaba twice.
“He rolled the center a couple of times,” Farley said. “He’s a great player.”
Farley and Paup delivered a simple message to their star defensive tackle, and they did it often during the pre-Northern Colorado practices.
“The big thing Farley and Paup have been getting on me about the last couple of weeks is, just kind of going through people,” Williams said. “Farley … said, ‘Hey, you just need to go through people.’ He just kept saying it over and over. He got Paup on board with him. They said, ‘If you want your sacks, you’ve gotta start going through people.’ “
Over his three-plus years as a regular at defensive tackle, Williams has been a standout, a rare talent who could supply pressure from the interior of the line. Still, Farley said the learning curve continues.
According to Farley, Williams played a different role, holding up blockers so the linebackers could have a clear path to the football. After some evaluation, Farley said something else became clear. Williams had to be turned loose inside.
“X is a dominant force if we let him go vertical,” Farley said. “So we wanted to get more out of X because he is a great player. We really wanted him to cut loose a little bit. We gave him some latitude.”
Farley added, “We went back and evaluated everything we were doing with him. It was early enough in the season. It’s great to play two very competitive, very good football teams because you learn so much about your team. That was one of the things we learned about very early — what is X really good at. … He’s gotta be a ‘wow’ player for us, and he was a ‘wow’ player tonight.”