BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Dexter Williams' first rushing attempt of the season went for 45 yards and a touchdown, and the Notre Dame senior who teammates call "Juiceman" has hardly stopped running since.
Williams was at it again at Virginia Tech, ripping off a 97-yard run among three touchdowns and carving up what was the nation's fourth-best defense against the run for 178 yards on 17 carries Saturday night.
"Huge," linebacker Drue Tranquill said of the second-longest run in Fighting Irish history. "He's our juice. We call him 'Juiceman.' The guys love him and the energy he brings. It gets the sideline going."
Williams' impact on the No. 5 Irish was delayed by a four-game absence to start the season, one neither he nor coach Brian Kelly have been willing to characterize. And while the long touchdown jaunt against Stanford last week announced his return in a 38-17 victory , he turned a precarious situation into one that completely altered the atmosphere at Lane Stadium in a 45-23 triumph Saturday night.
It came early in the third quarter with the Irish ahead 17-16 and having been pinned back at their 5 by a punt.
On first down, Williams was caught in the backfield by Rayshard Ashby for a 2-yard loss, giving the Irish minus-5 yards rushing for the game to that point. The sellout crowd at Lane Stadium, sensing a classic defense-led momentum shift, was deafening as it implored the Hokies to make it happen like they have done so many times before.
Williams silenced them, going off left tackle and into the clear. He'd earlier scored on a 1-yard dive, and later added a 31-yard run, high-stepping as a defender made one last diving attempt to stop him.
"We definitely had to take the crowd out of the game," Williams said.
The victory was Notre Dame's third against a ranked team this season, but the first on the road. It also was only their second win against a Top 25 team on the road since 2013.
"We're definitely getting more in sync," Williams said. "Everybody's getting comfortable in their roles."
It helps having a back that can turn some space into a game-changing play.
"You take that one run play out of the game, we really controlled the run game," Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "I thought really at the end of the day, probably who made the difference was (Williams). He made a difference in the game against Stanford and he made a difference in the game today with that big run."
The Hokies came in allowing 84 yards rushing per game. Without Williams, the Irish had minus-11.
He had 161 on 21 carries against Stanford.
"It's just a blessing to have this type of running style," Williams said. "Just being explosive, hitting the holes this fast, making defenders miss. It's definitely a gift, definitely a blessing just having this vision."
And an offensive line that gives him plenty to work with.
"Just having that amazing offensive line in front of me," he said. "It continues to get better and better."
INJURY UPDATE: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday that defensive end Daelin Hayes, who missed the Virginia Tech game with what he called a stinger, is week-to-week.
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