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For the backup to the nation's most frequent ball-carrier, opportunities were few and far between for Joe Williams.

While Devontae Booker had 27 carries per game, Williams toted 12, total, in nine games.

But then, the flip side to backing up the nation's most frequent ball-carrier: When opportunity knocks, it knocks in a big way.

Relieving Booker for two series against Arizona and then taking his place against UCLA, the onetime Pennsylvania prep sensation totaled 40 touches, the Utes adhering to the clock-control strategy with which they started 8-1.

And he could count on his closest friends to tell him what everyone back home was thinking.

"Finally!" Williams recounted with a laugh. "You got in the game!"

"They've seen me play since high school, so they were just happy to see me back on the field doing what I do best," he said.

And they were right: It had been a long time coming. Williams rushed three times for six yards at UConn in 2012, before his involvement in credit card fraud led to his dismissal and football purgatory.

He rushed for more than 1,000 yards at Brooklyn's ASA College in 2014. But they weren't exactly playing the likes of UCLA.

Williams was nervous, he acknowledged, heading into last week. Running backs coach Dennis Erickson, whose connections led Utah to discover Williams, said he did his best not to add to the pressure. No pep talk. Just business as usual.

Come game time, Williams said, "we all want to get a win, and that's really what I was thinking about the whole time, just doing my part."

With a 4.38 40-yard dash, he's a little faster than Booker, and weighing in 12 pounds lighter, somewhat less of a wrecking ball. His hands are excellent, Erickson said, but not quite "the best hands I've ever seen in a running back," praise he reserves for Booker. Erickson said Williams also tries to hit the hole with a head of steam, whereas Booker is more likely to wait and make a few tacklers miss.

"There are a lot of different ways to run the football," Erickson said.

His start against the Bruins was bookended by two plays that marred his final stat line: 26 carries, 121 yards rushing, four receptions, 31 yards receiving — all told, nearly half of Utah's total offense.

He fumbled on Utah's first series, ending a 61-yard drive at the UCLA 15 without points.

Then, on Utah's final play from scrimmage, he was involved in a botched play-fake that caused Travis Wilson to fumble, and Utah's South Division title hopes to die. Afterward, he said it was his fault, his elbow held too high on the fake exhange.

The mistakes have weighed on him, he said, and especially the fumble on the opening drive.

"It kind of dictated the pace of the game," he said.

But Erickson said he's not worried about Williams' state of mind.

"You know, he's a pretty relaxed kid, and I thought he played well," he said. "He made some mistakes, obviously, turned the ball over. It happens. But I thought there were a lot of really good things, running the football and protection, all those things, for the first time out."

He and Booker are an unlikely pair — Booker shy around those he doesn't know well, Williams effervescent. Williams said he's learned a few things in Booker's company, including patience as a runner, and "that signature hurdle."

"I was a sprinter, and the way he hurdles, you would think he ran track and did the 110 hurdles," he said.

This week, his father will join Williams and his girlfriend for Thanksgiving dinner at his apartment.

Billed by Kyle Whittingham as Booker's "heir apparent," he seems to be settling into life out West.

And Erickson, while acknowledging that Williams is not Booker, has him pegged for big things. Starting Saturday, in fact.

"He'll be a lot better this week for the second time out, because he's got speed," he said. "He's got some God-given ability."

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Colorado at Utah

P Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Network —

Joe Williams file

Vitals • 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, No. 28

From • Emmaus High near Allentown, Pa.

Before Utah • Played in nine games as a freshman at UConn before transferring to ASA College in Brooklyn, where he rushed 163 times for 1,093 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games and caught 16 passes for 237 yards and three scores. Rushed for 1,243 yards despite being used sparingly in the first few games of his senior season at Emmaus High. Ran a 10.5-second, 100-meter dash.