Owen Williams quietly makes impact for Tennessee's defense

Tennessee's Owen Williams (58) closes in on Bowling Green's quaterback Matt Johnson (11). The Tennessee Volunteers hosted the Bowling Green Falcons at Nissan Stadium in Nashville September 5, 2015.

KNOXVILLE - Owen Williams may be the quietest player on Tennessee's football team.

At least that's how defensive line coach Steve Stripling describes the 6-foot, 297-pound defensive tackle.

Williams was pretty noisy when the Volunteers beat South Carolina on Saturday, though, as the second-year senior made six tackles and made three of those stops for losses.

That prompted him to earn the nod as Tennessee's defensive player of the week.

"He had been doing so well and kind of hit the wall, so I was after him pretty good," Stripling said early Monday afternoon after speaking at the Knoxville Quarterback Club's weekly luncheon. "And he answered that challenge and I think played maybe one of his better games.

"He made a lot of plays, for sure, on Saturday. He's a very reachable kid. All kids have different buttons, and sometimes his is you step on it pretty hard and it gets his attention."

All three of Williams' tackles for loss came in the game's opening 20 minutes, as Tennessee made seven of those plays on South Carolina's first 23 snaps of the game.

The biggest play came when Williams, one of the Vols' strongest players, burst through the line and stuffed running back Brandon Wilds for a 2-yard loss on third-and-2, and the Gamecocks failed to convert on the ensuing fourth-down play.

Williams also stopped South Carolina running plays for no gain on two first downs in the fourth quarter as the Vols pitched a final-quarter shutout.

"Owen balled out today," defensive end Derek Barnett said. "Every play I turned my head he was getting back there before me. I was like, 'Dang, 'O,' I'm trying to get me some.' He was back there every play. Owen played great."

After making 21 tackles with two sacks in 12 games last season, Williams leads Tennessee's defensive tackles with 20 tackles this season, and his 5.5 tackles for loss after Saturday's eruption are the fourth-most on the team.

"I feel like he's not thinking as much," Barnett said. "He's just going for it and just playing ball."

The Vols badly needed immediate help in their first full recruiting class under coach Butch Jones, so they landed Williams out of Butler Community College in Kansas in the fall of 2013. He's from Macon, Ga.

He was part of a three-man rotation at defensive tackle in 2014, and the four- and five-man rotation the Vols have been able to use most of this season has helped all of those players, particularly Williams.

Stripling recalled seeing him on video on a Wednesday that 2013 season, calling him that night and flying out after Tennessee's practice the next morning to watch him practice.

The second-team junior college All-American was committed to Texas Tech at the time, but he flipped to Tennessee after taking an official visit to Knoxville that November. He enrolled in January.

Since he's been a Vol, Williams hasn't done a single interview.

"He wouldn't want to," Stripling said. "That's just not him. He's a man of few words."

So few words, apparently, that Williams has a special seat in the defensive line's meeting room.

"He never says a word," Stripling said. "I always stand up front and he sits right here (next to me), so he and I can kind of hold a sidebar, because he doesn't want to talk. He never talks. He can say 'Psst,' and then I can talk to him. That's his way of communication."

As a junior college transfer, Williams already is heading down the homestretch of his Tennessee career. With six tackles in two of his past three games, he appears intent on finishing with a flourish, but that only makes Stripling wish he had more eligibility remaining.

"He's mature in that he's a young man that's taken a hard road, when you're talking about going to junior college and coming here," Stripling said. "What we also talked to Owen about is appreciating his clock. He's got three games here and a bowl game, so he's got to be very appreciative of his time.

"That's a young man that keeps getting better. He's a fun guy to coach. We have a lot of fun, so I would definitely love to have another year with him. When he graduates it'll be a huge day. I'm going to have a party for him, because he's done it the hard way."

And the quiet way.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.