It has been a long time — if it has ever happened — since Kansas has been the best at something positive among the Big 12 football teams.
If first-year WVU football coach Neal Brown is to be believed, that time could finally be upon us as the Jayhawks feature two of the league’s best running backs in sophomore Pooka Williams and senior Khalil Herbert.
“We’ll be hard-pressed to find a better [running back] duo in the league,” Brown said.
The numbers back that up. Herbert is third in the Big 12 with 119 rushing yards per game. Williams is not far behind in fourth place at 110 rushing yards per game.
Williams burst on the college football scene last season as a freshman and for the most part overshadowed Herbert, but Mountaineer fans will likely remember Herbert for a long time.
Two season ago, the last time West Virginia visited the Jayhawks, the then-sophomore Herbert ran wild on the Mountaineers to the tune of 36 carries for 291 yards and two touchdowns. WVU won the game, but Herbert made a lasting impression that day in Lawrence.
“Khalil is a style of man that a team roots for and enjoys when he has success,” first-year Kansas coach Les 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.”
Williams, meanwhile, had one of his worst games of the 2018 season when the Jayhawks visited Morgantown. In that game, the West Virginia defense shut down the talented freshman as he gained just 65 yards on 12 carries.
As WVU prepares for its trip to take on Kansas this week (4:30 p.m., streaming only on ESPN+), it is with the knowledge that one or both of these KU running backs can do serious damage on the ground. Just ask Boston College.
In Kansas’ upset win at BC last week — the first road win for the Jayhawks against a Power 5 team in 11 years covering a span of 48 games — Herbert ran for 187 yards on 11 carries — that’s 17 yards per carry — with a touchdown. Williams saw more of the ball, carrying 22 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.
“They can take the ball anywhere on the field and make it a touchdown,” WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “They’re good enough to score from anywhere on the field.”
CONE-ING VS. KEN-ING
When West Virginia hired Neal Brown away from Troy University this offseason, it meant — obviously — the Trojans needed a new head coach. Troy turned to Chip Lindsey, who had recently been hired as the new offensive coordinator for Miles’ first staff at Kansas. Miles had to go back to the drawing board and landed on Les Koenning as the Jayhawks’ new offensive coordinator.
As it turns out, KU’s Koenning — pronounced KEN-ing — and WVU’s Koenning — pronounced CONE-ing — are no strangers.
“He’s a second cousin,” WVU’s Koenning said. “It’s kind of a long story.”
If you know much about Vic Koenning, you know that means it is story time.
“I’ve got three sons,” Vic Koenning said. “As most everybody who’s got boys knows, they tend to fight a little bit when they get older. How the story goes — and I’ll make it real short — is back a long time ago in East Texas, there were a couple brothers on this farm, and one pulled a knife in a fistfight or one pulled a gun in a knife fight or whatever and they got in a big fight. One of them said, ‘I’m out of here.’ I’m sure that’s my relative — most of my relatives are from San Antonio.”
A while back the two Koennings crossed paths at a coaching convention in New Orleans and right away Vic could see the family resemblance in Les. Since then, the pair of Koennings have become casual acquaintances.
“We’ve talked a bunch — not recently, but we’ve gotten to be acquaintances,” Vic said. “I talked to his dad, and he said, ‘Yeah, I heard this story. It’s the same one my daddy told me.’ It must be true.”
DID STANLEY STUTTER?
Kansas senior quarterback Carter Stanley has had a roller coaster career with the Jayhawks, but what he has been able to accomplish so far in 2019 — especially in the win at Boston College last week — has caught the eye of the West Virginia coaching staff ahead of Saturday’s meeting in Lawrence.
Against BC, Stanley completed 20 of 27 pass attempts for 238 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. For the season, he’s averaging 8.8 yards per passing attempt and is completing 71 percent of those attempts.
“I’ve seen one time [Stanley] opened the wrong way in three games,” Vic Koenning said. “I haven’t seen anything that would make me believe he’s not in complete control and experienced. I think he really does a really good job. Last week, they opened the field up.
“The previous two weeks, they did a lot of 11 [one running back and one tight end] and 12 [one running back and two tight ends] personnel. Last week, they went 10 [one running back and zero tight ends] and he shredded Boston College by going just basic zone and running RPOs — what we call stick draws — and getting guys open. He singlehandedly took that game over and threw the ball to the right guys. He did not miss any wide-open guys. I was very impressed by the way he played.”