MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — That the best punter in the Big 12 plays for Kansas should hardly come as any surprise. Over the course of the past decade, there might not be a player in the league with a heavier workload than whomever happens to be punting for the Jayhawks.
But for the best running back tandem in the league to reside in Lawrence? That certainly strays from the norm.
Senior Khalil Herbert and sophomore Pooka Williams are in their second year playing together, but Herbert mostly took a backseat to Williams during the latter’s sensational freshman season. New Kansas coach Les Miles is spreading the wealth, and it appears to be working. Herbert is third in the Big 12 with an average of 119 yards per game, and Williams is fourth with 110 yards per game.
“We’ll be hard-pressed to find a better duo in the league,” said WVU coach Neal Brown.
Both players were instrumental in KU’s 48-24 win at Boston College last week, which broke an 11-year losing streak in Power 5 road games. Williams bore the brunt of the workload with 22 carries for 121 yards and a score, while Herbert exploded for 187 yards and a touchdown on his 11 carries.
“Khalil is a style of man that a team roots for and enjoys when he has success,” Miles said. “He’s a physical runner. He has ability to make cuts that puts you in a very awkward position. He sits in the center of our unity council. Just a very quality man.”
Oklahoma State’s Chuba Howard is leading the league with 173.7 yards per game and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts has averaged 124 yards per game on the ground so far. But early in the season, no pair of teammates has been more productive running the ball than Herbert and Williams.
“They’re quick and agile, but also strong when they need to be,” said West Virginia defensive end Reese Donahue. “We’ve talked all week about how the two best backs in the Big 12 are likely at Kansas. So we’re excited to play them and see what we can do.”
West Virginia has gotten a direct taste of Herbert’s potential in the past. His 36-carry, 291-yard performance against the Mountaineers in 2017 remains his career-best.
The more heralded Williams found himself bottled up by the West Virginia defense last season, going for 65 yards on 12 carries. He would finish the year with 252 yards against Oklahoma and 103 yards against Texas in back-to-back games.
Donahue said it’s hard for the team to draw on its success against Williams or its struggles stopping Herbert given how much has changed with new coordinator Vic Koenning’s defense.
“We’re under a whole new staff, scheme and mentality,” Donahue said. “It’s hard to compare the two.”