The Big 12 is largely a pass-happy league; one headlined by truly elite receivers and some of the more prolific passers that the college football landscape has to offer. However, one wouldn’t have to search far and wide to find a formidable running back.
Kansas State’s Alex Barnes, Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill, Iowa State’s David Montgomery, and Oklahoma’s duo of Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks each fit the description. The name not mentioned, who may have the brightest future of the bunch?
Kansas’ Pooka Williams Jr.
With Texas set to travel to Lawrence, Kansas in the coming days, it seems that the Jayhawks budding star running back is now the primary roadblock standing between Texas and a trip to Arlington.
This reality isn’t lost on the Longhorns. During his Monday afternoon press conference, Texas head coach Tom Herman said of Kansas’ true freshman, “Pooka Williams is one of the best players in the league.” During a media availability on Tuesday, Texas senior defensive end Charles Omenihu made note of Williams as well, via Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman.
Asked what he knows about Kansas, Texas DE @charless_94 said, "I know they have a good running back (Pooka Williams), and I know they play hard."— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) November 20, 2018
Senior defensive tackle Chris Nelson weighed in on Williams, too.
“He’s nice,” Nelson said on Tuesday. “He’s the real deal, honestly. He’s got a quick twitch. The play could be designed to go one way, but he’ll break it back the other way. One play that stood out to me The biggest thing for this game is just gang tackling at the end of the day. Once we get around him, everyone’s got to put a hat on him.”
The praise pointed towards Williams is well warranted.
Fresh off of a 252-yard explosion on only 15 carries in a 55-40 loss to Oklahoma, which marked the most rushing yards from a freshman in Kansas history and now stands as the sixth-best effort in school history, Williams solidified himself as the only FBS player to rush for 250 yards on 15 or fewer carries against a ranked foe since 2000, as noted by 247Sports’ Chris Hummer.
The patience and cutting ability of Pooka Williams was on full display with that touchdown. To have that as just a freshman is pretty special. David Beaty and his teammates have praised his football IQ before. #kufball pic.twitter.com/LlY1K5oTDM— Tyler Greever (@WIBWTyler) November 18, 2018
“I think he plays as hard as he can every day. Here’s the deal: that kid just gets better every week because he works at it,” Kansas head coach David Beaty raved of Williams, via KUSports.com. “He loves the game and he continues to work at it… He’s a special player.”
As a result of such a sensational showing, Williams eclipsed the 1,000-yard milestone with 1,022 yards, becoming just the 12th Jayhawks to do so, which is even more notable considering he didn’t see the field in the season-opener against Nicholls and has since shared the workload with Khalil Herbert (109 attempts).
Nevertheless, Williams has made the most of his 145 attempts, churning out a Big 12-best 7.0 yards per carry, which also ranks as the 10th-best effort in college football. Not to mention’s Williams’ tremendous productivity is coming behind an offensive line that isn’t exactly overwhelming opponents at the point of attack, as Kansas’ standard down line yards per carry is a mere 2.50, which ranks 74th nationally and essentially means Williams is making much more of his opportunities than the offensive line is generally paving the way for.
If Williams can continue to make the most of his opportunities on Friday against a Texas defense that ranks 57th in rushing S&P+ and at least match his season average of 102.2 rushing yards per game, he’ll tie Nolan Cromwell for the 10th-most yards in a single season in school history with 1,124. At that juncture, Williams would be a simple stone’s throw from surpassing Brandon McAnderson and Gale Sayers (1,125), June Henley (1,127), Wade Stinson (1,129), and John Riggins (1,131) to potentially solidify the fifth-best rushing season in school history.
For Todd Orlando and his Texas defense, the tall test at hand is glaringly apparent: Prevent Williams from rushing his way into the Kansas record books. This defensive emphasis should be especially true considering the Peyton Bender-led passing attack isn’t actually much of an attack at all, and that’s putting it lightly, ranking 122nd in passing S&P+ and failing to eclipse 250 yards in a single game this season.
Simply put, if Kansas can come out on top to cap the David Beaty era, it will almost certainly be because Williams willed them to a win.