Auburn Football: How Duke Williams Suspension Impacts Outback Bowl


The Auburn football team won’t have its leading receiver New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl. How will the suspension of Duke Williams impact the Tigers?

Williams led the Tigers with 730 receiving yards and five touchdown grabs on 45 catches this season, his first after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

However, the Tigers have already played two games without him this year. The junior suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of the team’s 41-38 upset loss to Texas A&M that forced him to miss a 34-7 loss to Georgia the following week and also a 31-7 victory over Samford.

Oct 11, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Auburn Tigers wide receiver D’haquille Williams (1) pulls in a pass over Mississippi State Bulldogs linebacker Matthew Wells (22) during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Back in action and sporting a large knee brace, Williams had seven receptions for 121 yards against Alabama. It was the fourth time this season the 6-foot-2, 216-pound wideout had more than 100 receiving yards for Auburn. Williams accomplished the feat against Arkansas, Kansas State and Mississippi State as well.

That production, coupled with his size and athleticism made Williams a threat to any defense and it also made him a security blanket across the middle for quarterback Nick Marshall. And he would have certainly come in handy against the Wisconsin Badgers, Auburn’s opponent in Tampa.

Instead, he’ll practice on the scout team but sit out the game due to a suspension as the result of violating team rules.

What exactly did he do?

“I’m not getting into any details,” head coach Gus Malzahn said Monday. “He’s just not going to play.”

With Williams on the sidelines, expect Wisconsin to aggressively load the box in an attempt to stop the SEC’s best rushing attack. Cameron Artis-Payne needs just 18 yards to reach 1,500 for the season, and Marshall is 37 yards shy of the school’s career rushing record among quarterbacks.

In other words, the Tigers are likely to rely heavily on the ground game to pick up yards and put up points in the Outback Bowl.

Of course, such a strong rushing offense creates opportunities for big plays in the play-action passing game, of which Sammie Coates as a prototypical target. The 6-foot-2 junior ranks third in the nation with 23.9 yards per catch, and should have opportunities to create big plays on the outside, even without Williams to divert attention, should the Tigers commit to running the football early and often.

Playing his final game in orange and blue before leaving for the NFL, Coates could be in store for another big day – he set a career-high with 206 receiving yards against Alabama November 29.

Senior Quan Bray will also be in an Auburn uniform for the final time. Bray ranks second on the team with 34 catches and is tied with Coates for second with four TD grabs, and is third with 408 receiving yards in 2014. He’s been solid all season, and should help pick up the slack as well.

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In addition to Coates and Bray, it’s time for Ricardo Louis to step up. The speedster has only 195 receiving yards this season, but will be counted on heavily in 2015 to replace Coates and should be motivated by playing in his home state. There are plenty of other options as well.

“We’ve got some veteran guys that we can move around,” Malzahn said Monday. “Ricardo Louis, C.J. (Uzomah), Melvin (Ray), they all will have a role in taking his place.”

Uzomah, a senior tight end, mentioned he and Ray had been practicing Williams’ position early in Outback Bowl practices when the Louisiana native was unavailable due to an illness.

“Obviously, he hasn’t put up big numbers, because he’s been very selfless here the last two years and moved around and played a bunch of different spots,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said of Uzomah. “Credit to him for never getting frustrated, always being a team guy. He’s played inside receiver, he’s played outside receiver, he’s played tight end, he’s played H-Back.”

Duke Williams’ suspension will have an impact Thursday against the Badgers, but because the Tigers have a strong rushing attack, another playmaking starting wide receiver and a deep group of replacements that have already prepared to replace the team’s leading receiver, Auburn should be just fine without him.

Next: 5 Tigers to Watch in the Outback Bowl

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