The way Kansas football coach Les Miles described it, there wasn’t much for the Jayhawks “to smile about” on their final Saturday of the season.
Miles did allow for a slight departure from that line of thinking when it came to KU’s star running back. The Jayhawks weren’t able to accomplish many of their week’s goals during a one-sided loss to Baylor. But they did set up Pooka Williams Jr. for some relative success, as the sophomore rusher topped 100 yards for the fifth time in 2019.
Williams’ 22 carries for 116 yards in defeat put him over 1,000 yards for the second year in a row, making him just the second player in KU’s history to pull that off. James Sims (1,013 rushing yards in 2012 and 1,110 yards in 2013) is the only other Jayhawk to reach that figure in consecutive seasons.
“We were more competitive toward the end,” Williams said of a couple of longer drives late on a day when the offense mostly struggled, with six three-and-outs, six punts, two turnovers on downs and four interceptions.
“Once we saw there was no coming back,” Williams said, “we just got more competitive and really were trying to get our rushing goals and more stats for each other.”
Four of Williams’ eight carries in the first half versus BU gained less than 1 yard. In the second half, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound running back from Louisiana found more steady success.
“Just seeing more holes and gaps, and really just running physical,” he said of closing the game out on a better note.
An All-Big 12 first-team running back as a true freshman in 2018, Williams’ numbers dipped a little during his second season with the Jayhawks (3-9 overall, 1-8 Big 12). During his first college season, Williams contributed 1,125 rushing yards, 289 receiving yards and scored nine total TDs. As a sophomore, he finished with 1,061 rushing yards, 214 receiving yards and five total TDs. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2019, after going for 7.0 yards a rush as a freshman.
Williams thinks opposing coaches and players found ways to defend him differently this time around.
“I think they did, honestly, just knowing how I can reverse field any moment,” Williams said. “They just stayed home, and I couldn’t reverse field.”
Even so, with his production over the past few months, Williams became only the second player in KU history to accumulate at least 2,000 career rushing yards during the first two seasons of his college career. You may have heard of the other: Gale Sayers. The “Kansas Comet” ran for 1,125 in 1962 and 917 in 1963.
Providing a self-evaluation of his sophomore season shortly after it concluded, Williams maintained he’s the same player he was as a freshman, but also said he “lost a step or two.”
He plans to recover those in the months ahead.
“This offseason’s going to be a critical offseason for me,” Williams said. “On top of gaining, on top of lifting hard, running, it’s going to be a critical offseason.”
Williams said he and his teammates left the season regretful because they wanted to close it out with something meaningful for everyone on the roster.
“It hurt me deeply,” Williams said of KU’s 61-6 loss to Baylor, “because I told Carter (Stanley) we were going to send him out with a win. We didn’t compete as much as we should’ve to send those seniors off with a victory.”
2019 — Rushing: 203 rushes, 1,061 yards, 3 TDs, 5.2 yards per carry, 96.5 yards per game. Receiving — 27 catches, 214 yards, 2 TDs, 7.9 yards per catch, 19.5 yards per game (11 games).
2018 — Rushing: 161 rushes, 1,125 yards, 7 TDs, 7.0 yards per carry, 102.3 yards per game. Receiving — 33 catches, 289 yards, 2 TDS, 8.9 yards per catch, 26.3 yards per game (11 games).