‘Williams Bros.’ show promise in Iowa football’s Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky

Redshirt freshmen Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams were the centerpieces of the Hawkeyes’ offensive attack Saturday.


Grace Smith

Iowa running back Gavin Williams carries the ball during the 2022 Vrbo Citrus Bowl between No. 15 Iowa and No. 22 Kentucky at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes, 20-17. Williams carried the ball 16 times for 42 yards.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. — Redshirt freshmen running backs Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams set modest goals for themselves ahead of Iowa football’s appearance in the 2022 Citrus Bowl.

The pair just wanted to keep No. 22 Kentucky’s defense honest.

“Our big thing was, ‘Try and keep the running game going,’” Gavin Williams said of he and Leshon Williams’ Citrus Bowl game plan. “[Tyler Goodson] had just declared for the NFL Draft, and everybody was like, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ So, our big goal for this game and this week of preparation was to try to keep the game going as smoothly as we can — keep the run game in it. Try to keep the defense honest.”

Gavin and Leshon Williams had their numbers called Saturday more than they ever did during the regular season. Gavin carried the ball 16 times, and Leshon ran it on 10 occasions.

The pair was trying to fill the void left by Tyler Goodson, who was Iowa’s starting running back during the regular season. Goodson declared for the NFL Draft Dec. 10 and decided to pass on the Hawkeyes’ appearance in the Citrus Bowl.

Goodson has been Iowa’s leading rusher for each of the last three seasons.

With Goodson out of the picture and the 2021 season in the books, Gavin and Leshon Williams seem like they’re going to have big roles in Iowa’s offensive game plan in 2022.

“I mean, with the combination of me and Leshon, I feel like we can open up the playbook and do a lot of things,” Gavin Williams said. “I’m excited to see what the future has for us and this offense.”

Goodson had previously characterized his on-field relationship with Gavin Williams as “thunder and lightning.” Gavin said he and Leshon bring a different dynamic to the Hawkeyes’ backfield.

“I would say, [we’re] maybe a little bit of thunder-thunder,” Gavin Williams said. “Maybe a little bit of lightning-lightning. We run very similar. So, I feel like it’ll be a different experience next year. I mean, we only had one game to kind of compliment each other. I feel like, going into this offseason, getting more reps together, and figuring out how each one of us play, will help benefit the team.”

Gavin and Leshon’s relationship off the field is just as solid as it is on the playing surface. Gavin and Leshon are roommates, and they refer to themselves as “The Williams Bros.,” even though they aren’t actually related in any way.

Gavin and Leshon combined for 140 yards Saturday. Gavin racked up 98 of those yards and Leshon was responsible for the other 42. Gavin and Leshon averaged 6.1 and 4.2 yards per carry, respectively.

The duo’s performance turned heads Saturday, including that of junior tight end Sam LaPorta.

“It’s really cool to see those guys step up for us when we need it most,” LaPorta said postgame. “They have been working hard all season. It doesn’t surprise me — the efforts they showed today — because we see it every day in practice. They worked hard like everybody else.

“Over time, we develop guys,” LaPorta added. “They were ready to hit the spotlight today. They ran their butts off. We are really excited about them.”

Despite the promise Leshon and Gavin Williams showed Saturday, the Hawkeyes know there is still room for offensive improvement this offseason. 

“Obviously, we have to score more points [next year],” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said postgame. “We are all well-aware of that.”

Coming into the Citrus Bowl, Iowa ranked 123rd in the country in total offense. There are only 130 NCAA Division I FBS teams. 

On a national level, Iowa ranked 95th in the scoring offense, 121st in red zone offense, 110th in passing offense, 112th in first down offense, and 110th in third down conversion rate.

The next time Iowa’s offense will take the field for a game is Sept. 3, 2022. The Hawkeyes will take on South Dakota State at Kinnick Stadium that day.