Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Syracuse's Mike Williams was one of the Big East's top receivers in 2007. Then he missed all of 2008 because of academic problems, and many thought he'd never come back.
But Williams has returned and it's like he hasn't missed a beat. The senior is averaging 109 receiving yards per game, which is 11th best in the nation. He had 11 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Northwestern.
Williams will be a key figure in Saturday's game against South Florida. First, he agreed to be our Friday Q&A subject:
How is the team feeling now with this two-game winning streak? Is the confidence as high as it's been since you've been there?
Mike Williams: Oh, yeah. With wins come confidence. We got two in a row and everybody's confidence is built up. We think we can go in the Big East and cause some problems.
What's the difference between this Syracuse team and the past few years?
MW: The difference is just the effort, the hard work. Everybody is just on the same page. We all know we want to go out there and get a win. We look at it like everybody's got the same goal, and everybody's working hard for that goal. And I think that's the main difference.
The passing game has clicked between you and Greg Paulus. What's been the key to that?
MW: We've got a great quarterback. We've got somebody back there making great decisions. They're calling plays that he can make, and he's stepping up and making them.
He didn't get to campus until May. How much time did you really have to work with him?
MW: Ever since May. He came in May and the first thing he said was that he was going to work hard to get that starting spot. So I had to work with him so he could get that spot, and we've been working since then.
Did you sense something about him right away that he could do this, even though he'd been away from the game for so long?
MW: Yeah, I kind of thought like, four years out of football, I don't know if he still had what he had. But he proved me wrong. He went out there and worked hard and is the starting quarterback for Syracuse.
It's interesting that maybe Syracuse's two best players were both out of football last year. You seemed to have picked up where you left off in 2007. Was there any rust?
MW: The first series of the first game, it was like I was so shocked that I was back out there. But after that it was back to work.
What about after you made your first catch?
MW: Oh, it was crazy. The crowd was so loud. It was almost like we won the game when I caught my first pass. It felt like I was back, right then and there.
Have defenses been throwing a lot of double teams at you?
MW: Sometimes. Mostly on third downs. But really not that often because we have a great running back and sometimes they go and try to stop Delone Carter and leave me one-on-one. It's mostly just third-down passing situations.
Do you relish it when you see one-on-one coverage?
MW: Oh, yeah, I love it. That's what a receiver wishes for. If you can't beat one-on-one coverage, you shouldn't be a receiver. That's how I look at it.
South Florida was impressive defensively against Florida State last week. What kind of challenges do they present?
MW: They are a great defense. They have great defensive ends play, so they play man-to-man most of the game and trust in their secondary. It will be a real challenge, the challenge of all challenges right here. I think going against their defense will show us what type of offense we have. We as receivers have got to hurry up and get open on our routes and give our offensive line a chance to block these guys.
What's been the reaction around town and around campus to the way you guys have played this year?
MW: Even when we lost our first two games, people noticed we were a changed team. They said, 'We're still going to support you guys, we're still out there.' Everybody knows this is a changed team. When we won these last two, people in town are going crazy about it.
You said this is a changed team. Are you a changed person? Are your academic problems a thing of the past?
MW: I feel like I still have a lot to prove on the field and in the classroom. I want to let them know that I can live the college life. I want to let them know I can hold up my responsibilities and do everything to stay here this time. I feel like I have a lot to prove still.