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Eastern Michigan's Jimmy Williams: The Master of Strip

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UB Athletics

Some football equipment is camp equipment. You bring it out in August, and focus on a skill during the time where you have more practice time than things to do. September brings the season and the focus returns to the core identity of the team, just the important stuff.

The ball on the string was an August drill. A player would secure a football, and defenders would try to jar the ball out. A two foot root sewn into the football prevented the ball from spilling downfield. In five minutes of practice, each defender would force 10-20 fumbles. In 2006, the fumble drill was used in August, September, October and November, and the identity of the UB Bulls defense became clear: get the football.

The identity was forged by Buffalo Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Williams. Jimmy was an aggressive coach in good times and bad. The defense was to attack, and if you make a mistake, it better be an aggressive mistake. If you hesitated, Williams would not hesitate to take you off the field. Any mistake in positioning or play recognition could be cured by forcing the offense to put the ball on the ground.

In 2006, UB forced 11 fumbles. Despite a 2-10 record, the second win against Kent State was a harbinger of things to come. Down 14-10 in the third quarter, James Judges forced a fumble that led to a UB touchdown. On the next Kent State play, Ollice Ervin forced a fumble which led to another UB touchdown. Fumbles put UB up 24-14, and the team that struggled to score exploded to a 41-14 win.

In 2007, UB won five games, and improved their forced fumbles number to 16, although they only recovered seven. The impact of a forced fumble is two-fold. On one hand, the turnover doesn't occur until the recovery, and the chance of recovery is random. On the other hand, the more fumbles you force, the greater chance you have at recovering a football. Football Outsiders calls this fumble luck. Basically, forcing fumbles is a skill, recovering them is luck.

In 2008, UB led the league in forced fumbles, with 25, and they recovered 24 fumbles. Facing a bad loss to Army, fumbles sparked the comeback that launched UB to the MAC Championship game. Once there, UB won the MAC Championship forcing and recovering two fumbles and recovering two more unforced fumbles. In 2008, Buffalo was 0-2 when they did not force a fumble, 8-4 when they did.

Between 2006 and 2008, Jimmy Williams' Bulls stripped the ball 52 times. In the five and a half years since 2009, UB has 61 forced fumbles. 26% of UB's forced fumbles since 2009 were caused by Khalil Mack, the NCAA career leader in forced fumbles. We can only imagine what a turnover-minded coach like Jimmy Williams could have done with a turnover machine like Khalil Mack.

In 2001, Brian Kelly, with Jeff Quinn as Offensive Coordinator, Chuck Martin running the defense and the secondary and Jimmy Williams running the defensive line, led Grand Valley State to their first D-II Championship game appearance, going 13-0 before losing to North Dakota in the final game. Williams moved on to Toledo in 2002, where the Rockets fell in the MAC Championship game to Marshall. He earned a job with Frank Solich at his alma mater, Nebraska, and he worked alongside Bo Pelini and Turner Gill. However after a 10-4 season, Solich was fired, and Williams was not retained.

Williams built himself back up culminating with his masterpiece in 2008 but he was not retained by Buffalo in 2009. Buffalo's forced fumbles decreased to 12 in 2009 without Williams and continued to decrease to a low of six in 2012. After three years out of football, Williams worked at UAB in 2012 and 2013 before returning to the MAC this year as defensive line coach at EMU. This weekend, Williams faces Buffalo for the first time since leaving the team in 2008.

Jimmy's patented aggressiveness is present in EMU lineman Pat O'Connor who has already amassed seven TFLs and 4.5 sacks this year. With only three forced fumbles, EMU hasn't yet mastered the strip, however with Jimmy Williams on staff, you can believe they are working on that skill everyday.

This year, UB has protected the ball with only three fumbles: one muffed punt and two Anthone Taylor fumbles. However with the Master of Strip on the opposing sideline, UB's skill players might want to cover the ball with both hands this week.