The Big 12 conference is flush with high-end running backs.
Whether it’s Iowa State’s Breece Hall, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard or even West Virginia’s own Leddie Brown, it seems that with each game on the schedule comes a new back to be concerned about.
This week in particular offers no relief for the Mountaineers as they prepare to take on the Kansas Jayhawks and running back Pooka Williams Jr.
What challenges does Williams pose to WVU’s defense exactly?
“Everything,” defensive line coach Jordan Lesley said. “I’ve been telling the guys for two weeks.”
Lesley put Williams up there among the best running backs in the Big 12 this season. At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, however, Williams is diminutive when compared to backs like Hall (215 pounds), Hubbard (208 pounds), Brown (210 pounds), Texas Tech’s SaRodorick Thompson (210 pounds) and even Oklahoma’s T.J. Pledger (198 pounds) has nearly 30 pounds on him. Do not mistake his lack of size for a lack of strength, however.
“He’s strong, he’s a lot stronger than people give him credit for,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “He’s got really good lower body strength so he’s a difficult tackle.”
“He’s just a different type of back,” Lesley added. “I wouldn’t put him in the power category some of the other guys are, but he doesn’t have to be.”
Both Brown and Lesley said that one of Williams’ biggest strengths is his ability to improvise.
“He has the ability to even get yards when it’s not blocked very well,” Brown said. “You don’t see that very often. It could be a run play called to the left and you do a pretty good job of stuffing it, he might bounce it all the way out to the right and that’s hard to prepare for, you’ve got to make sure you keep edges and you play really good responsibility football.”
Lesley said that ability to create plays on his own is what makes him one of the best backs in the league.
“Pooka is, to me, as good or maybe one of the best in the league, because he can make mistakes and make them look good,” Lesley said. “He can go way away from where the play’s designed to go and he can go 80 yards, 60 yards, he can score a touchdown on you from anywhere on the field.”
Williams’ numbers are down a bit to start this season. In three games, he has rushed for 175 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Jayhawk offense has been down as a whole to start this season, however, and Williams’ track record of success, as well as how Kansas uses him are still sources of concern for the Mountaineers.
“He’s a special talent, he really is, and he’s done it now for two-plus years,” Brown said. “He has the ability to make you miss, they use him in a variety of ways. I fully expect them to line him up all over the field, motion him to the backfield, throw him the ball out of the backfield, line him up in the slot. They’ve been creative this year and in the past getting him the football.”
Williams eclipsed 1,100 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards and was named to the All-Big 12 First Team in each of the previous two seasons.
Kansas announced that dual-threat quarterback Miles Kendrick will get the start Saturday, but according to Lesley, the plan for WVU’s defense heading is to find Williams first and stop him.
“You have to know where Pooka is, that’s the plan no matter who’s the quarterback, you have to know where he is and how they plan on using him,” Lesley said. “With a guy like Pooka, you just have to find him and hope you find him before it’s too late.”