Most observers, heading into the season, believed Kansas football’s biggest strength would be its group of talented running backs.
It appears now, though, that KU will be without two of its best three options there for the season’s final seven games.
KU coach Les Miles gave an update Monday on running back Khalil Herbert, who sat out Saturday’s TCU loss for personal reasons. Miles hinted then that Herbert might be pursuing a four-game redshirt and then a graduate transfer from KU.
“I don’t expect Khalil to be with us,” Miles said Monday. “That’s all I have.”
When asked for clarification, Miles said he didn’t expect Herbert to be with the team “for the foreseeable future.”
It would be a big loss. Herbert leads KU in rushing with 384 yards and also was averaging 8.9 per carry.
Miles said he spoke with Herbert about his situation Friday night before the team’s game in Fort Worth, Texas.
“It’s really his business,” Miles said, “and it’s something that I’m not going to comment on.”
KU also went without the services of third-string back Dom Williams, a former three-star recruit. Williams, who has 17 carries for 35 yards this season, was spotted with the team after the TCU loss.
Miles was asked Monday if he could give an update on Williams’ status and whether he was pursuing a redshirt like Herbert.
“I really can’t. Again, it’s Dom’s information, not mine,” Miles said. “He’ll be at practice today, and we’re going to go on from there.”
Williams — a 5-10, 200-pound junior — has never experienced sustained success at KU after entering as a top-10 rusher in Texas high school football state history. He also could be pursuing a transfer, though at this point, his decision to sit appears to be an act to redshirt the season no matter where his future takes him.
Pooka Williams, an all-Big 12 first team running back last season, remains as KU’s primary backfield option. He hasn’t had the same success this season, though, averaging 4.6 yards per carry (he was at 7.0 last year) while mostly getting the ball on inside runs between the tackles.
True freshman Velton Gardner was the backup Saturday, getting his first collegiate carries. He finished with four rushes for 61 yards with a touchdown.
“A big runner, has great change of direction, big smile on his face after he came off the field,” Miles said of Gardner. “He’s a guy that will have a long and very capable career.”
As for Herbert ... KU offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji said the running back had communicated with some teammates both before and after Saturday about his decision.
“I think everything kind of didn’t go like how it was planned to, and obviously it’s a bad little situation,” Adeniji said. “But I don’t think anyone really intended for it to go down how it did.”
KU safety Bryce Torneden — a team captain like Adeniji — called Herbert “a great friend of mine” before saying he was going to work to be there for both Herbert and also his current teammates.
“All of the leaders on this team, I think we have to take that step and make sure everyone’s focused on the goal, which is winning games and playing to the best of our ability,” Torneden said. “So whatever the outside noise may be, we’ve got to make sure that we’re tuned in and focused on winning games.”