CHENEY - Renard Williams is sick and tired of seeing double, but he's managed to remain clearly focused on the ultimate goal.
Williams, enjoying another banner season at Eastern Washington despite constant double-teaming, aims to push the top-ranked Eagles one step closer to the Football Championship Subdivision national title when they host No. 21 North Dakota State today in the quarterfinals (12:35 p.m., ESPN3).
Williams, an NFL prospect at defensive tackle, has seen his stats drop from last year because of all the double teams. However, the former South Kitsap High School standout made the All-Big Sky Conference first team for the second straight year, and coaches and teammates say Williams is better than ever.
“Renard’s turned himself into a true team leader,” coach Beau Baldwin said. “He’s a guy you can look to, and he’s saying the right things when they need to be said.
“He’s working his tail off in practice, not just making plays in games.”
Williams, an easy-going, affable fellow off the field, is the first to admit he was not always as intense on the field as he needed to be in past years. That changed this fall.
“His motor was a bit of an issue it’s been awesome to see how he’s come of age,” All-America linebacker J.C. Sherritt said.
“Some people just mature later,” defensive coordinator John Graham said. “He’s done a great job.”
Added Baldwin: “Every year, he’s gotten better with his approach.”
Williams said he “definitely” needed to improve the consistency of his effort.
“Like J.C. said, I just try to be more mature I’ve got another year under my belt,” said Williams, a redshirt junior.
“I’m just trying to be mature and always give 100 percent and just try to be a beast out there.”
The “beast” in Williams came out in all its glory in Eastern’s playoff opener, a 37-17 victory over Southeast Missouri last Saturday.
“If you go and watch this last game film, every single play, he is just creating havoc,” Sherritt said.
Williams had a season-high six tackles against the Otahkians, but he had none of his beloved quarterback sacks. As usual, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Williams faced a steady diet of double-teams.
“It’s been a challenge,” Williams said. “Coming off my sophomore year, where I had a lot of one-on-one (with blockers), I had 91/2 sacks.
“Teams see I had 91/2 sacks, they’re going to key on me and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to stop this guy.’
“I’ve definitely seen my fair share of double-teams this year, and even triple-teams. I’ve just got to try to fight through them.”
Williams, a communications major, has started all 12 games this season after starting part-time the previous two years. He ranks second on the Eagles in sacks with 31/2, third in tackles for loss with eight and 10th in total tackles with 39.
Sack opportunities may be few and far between for Williams and the fifth-seeded Eagles (10-2) on Saturday because the unseeded Bison (9-4) stress a power running game. The Bison ran for 376 of their 432 total yards last week in a 42-17 triumph at Montana State.
“It’s just smash-mouth football,” Sherritt said.
Eastern has won eight consecutive games since dropping a 30-7 decision at Montana State on Sept. 25. The Eagles’ All-America tailback, Taiwan Jones, who has run for 1,532 yards and 13 touchdowns, was limited by a hip injury at Montana State.
Jones ranks fourth in the FCS with 137.5 rushing yards per game. North Dakota State halfback D.J. McNorton, who ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns at Montana State, ranks 14th in the FCS with 110.4 rushing yards per game.
The forecast calls for temperatures in the low-30s and possible snow, so passing could be limited on the red turf of Roos Field. Eastern’s Levi Bo Mitchell ranks 21st with 230.1 passing yards per game and is tied for fifth with 27 touchdown passes.