Big 12′s top rusher challenging No. 9 WVU
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University came out on top in a shootout at Kansas to open Big 12 football play last season, winning 56-34.
In that game, Jayhawks’ running back Khalil Herbert gashed the Mountaineers for 291 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. The good news for No. 9 WVU? Herbert is still around for Kansas but is no longer the primary ball carrier. The bad news? The new guy toting the rock for KU might be even better.
Say hello to Kansas freshman Pooka Williams, a New Orleans native who has shown an ability to bust big plays and impress with his speed in the first half of the college football season.
Williams is the current Big 12 rushing leader at 118.5 yards per game and will be a primary concern for WVU defenders when the Mountaineers (4-0, 2-0 Big 12) host Kansas (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) for Homecoming at noon Saturday (broadcast on ESPN2).
“He’s got lightning-quick speed,” WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen said of Williams. “He starts, he stops. He’s a dynamic player so they move him all over the place. It’s rare for a true freshman to have the production that he’s had at this point. (Williams is) a really good player that we’re going to have to keep under wraps.”
Kansas opened the season with a win at Central Michigan — its first win on the road since 2009 — and Williams was a big part of that milestone. He ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries to help take that burden off the Jayhawks’ shoulders.
The next week, Williams was back at it as KU pounded Rutgers 55-14.
Against the Scarlet Knights, Williams rattled off 163 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries to firmly establish himself as the a force going into Big 12 play.
His pace, however, has slowed some since the start of conference play.
In a 27-6 loss at Baylor, Williams ran the ball 14 times for 89 yards and was kept out of the end zone. Last week in a 48-28 loss at home against visiting Oklahoma State, he carried 13 times for 97 yards and a score while showing another dimension to his game -- he can catch the ball pretty well out of the backfield.
Williams caught six passes for 60 yards against the Cowboys and gave defensive coordinators more to consider when deciding how to defend him.
“I think he’s the best back we’ve played thus far, other than maybe the back from Tennessee (Tim Jordan) — he’s pretty good,” WVU linebacker David Long said. ”(Williams) definitely has some quickness to him, he’s got some power.”
For the season, Williams has 60 rushing attempts for 474 yards, an average of 7.9 yards per carry. Herbert still sees some playing time this season, with 28 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown. Throw in Dom Williams and his 110 yards on 29 carries and the Jayhawks have several capable options when it comes to running back.
Still, there is a reason Williams was able to come in and take over the starting job.
“Williams in the fastest back we’ll play all year long,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “The Williams kid and Herbert are both explosive backs, and their quarterbacks do a good job too on the zone read — pulling it and keeping you off balance — but those two backs are as good as any two backs we’ll play all year long.”
West Virginia will look to continue its dominance over Kansas. Since joining the league in 2012, WVU owns a 5-1 record against KU, with the lone loss coming in 2013 in Lawrence, Kansas, to a Jayhawks team coached by Charlie Weis.
Kansas has never won in Morgantown in four tries, and Holgorsen is a perfect 3-0 against KU coach David Beaty in their careers.
KANSAS (2-3, 0-2) AT NO. 9 WVU (4-0, 2-0)
WHEN: Noon Saturday
WHERE: Milan Puskar Stadium
TV: ESPN2 RADIO: WWQB 102.3-FM