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Provo • Just when a month of disappointment and despair was seemingly in the BYU Cougars' rearview mirror, they received another discouraging setback on Monday when they returned to campus after Saturday's 27-7 win over Middle Tennessee.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said in his noon press briefing Monday that star running back Jamaal Williams, arguably the team's most dynamic offensive weapon, suffered a "significant and severe" right knee injury in the fourth quarter and will miss the rest of the season.
Williams will have surgery on Tuesday, a crushing end to an injury and suspension-riddled junior season in which the Fontana, Calif., native who was on track to become the school's all-time rushing leader appeared in just seven games and posted 518 yards and four touchdowns on 109 carries.
"It is severe and multiple," Mendenhall said of the injury suffered when Williams was hit low by an MTSU defender after he caught a 28-yard pass from Christian Stewart on third-and-10 to keep a drive alive. "Significant and severe [injury] is what I was told."
Williams, who rushed for 775 yards as a freshman and 1,233 as a sophomore, is currently sixth on BYU's all-time rushing list, with 2,526 yards. He has often stated that his goal is Harvey Unga's leading mark of 3,547.
He needed help getting off the field Saturday, but what was originally diagnosed as a right knee sprain is obviously worse.
"I am not sure even if he thought it was bad right away," Mendenhall said. "He felt like it hyperextended. … I don't think any of us knew to what extent [he was injured] really, other than he took a direct hit to the knee. I am not sure he thought it was this severe."
The Cougars (5-4) have a bye this weekend, and won't play against until Nov. 15 at home against UNLV (2-7). The school announced Monday that the UNLV game will start at 5 p.m. MT and be televised by ESPNU.
BYU has been shorthanded at running back most of the season, but hopes to get sophomore Algie Brown back next week. He's played in only five games, due to multiple ankle sprains, and has rushed for 158 yards on 30 carries. Senior Paul Lasike (49 carries, 212 yards), walk-on Nate Carter (20 carries, 120 yards) and Adam Hine (22 carries, 80 yards) are the other options.
"It is tough, because [Williams] is one of the guys that gets us going," said Hine, who has missed games with a broken bone in his foot that can't be repaired by surgery. "It is tough, mostly to see him go down and how tough it is on him, but we have a strong group. We have a lot of guys ready to go and we all need to step it up."
In their bye week in late September, the Cougars practiced hard for three days. But because of their injury situation, they will take a different approach this week, Mendenhall said, practicing lightly Thursday and Friday and using the time to get reps for the surge of younger players who have been forced into action by all the injuries.
"The bye format this week is not in relation to the last one," Mendenhall said. "It is just in relation to where our team currently is."
Starting senior defenders Alani Fua (ankle) and Craig Bills (residual effects of a concussion) did not make the trip to Tennessee. Mendenhall said Fua is "about 75 percent" and Bills' status is not known after the safety got hurt against UCF, sat out the Nevada game, returned for the Boise State game, and then missed the MTSU game.
"Any time there is a head injury, you are always concerned," Mendenhall said. "So my first concern for him is his health and well-being."
Jamaal Williams' career stats
Year Class GP Att Yards TDs 2012 Freshman 13 166 775 12 2013 Sophomore 12 217 1233 7 2014 Junior 7 109 518 4 Totals 32 492 2,526 23
BYU's all-time rushing list
Rank Player Rushing Yards
1 Harvey Unga 3,455
2 Curtis Brown 3,221
3 Jamal Willis 2,970
4 Lakei Heimuli 2,710
5 Jeff Blanc 2,663
6 Jamaal Williams 2,526