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Injuries slow Khalil Herbert and his blockers

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Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) charges up the field to set up a touchdown for the Jayhawks during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) charges up the field to set up a touchdown for the Jayhawks during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Kansas rushed for 12 more yards in the first two games of the Big 12 schedule, vs. West Virginia and Texas Tech, than in the next six.

KU totaled just 467 rushing yards and two touchdowns, averaging 2.1 yards per carry, in games vs. Iowa State, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma.

The Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8) opened Big 12 play with a 367-yard rushing game against West Virginia, Khalil Herbert leading the way with 291 yards. The next week, the Jayhawks rushed for 112 yards vs. Texas Tech.

Since that game, KU has averaged just 77.8 yards rushing per game.

What happened?

Back when Herbert had his huge day against West Virginia, he was healthy and so was the entire starting offensive line.

Herbert’s 10-carry, 65-yard effort vs. Texas Tech wrapped up a three-game stretch in which he rushed for 493 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 7.6 yards per carry.

In five games (he didn’t play against Iowa state) since, Herbert has rushed for 155 yards, a 3.1 average, and hasn’t scored a touchdown.

“Khalil’s just been kind of beat up,” KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said last week. “He had a couple of really good games, then he just hasn’t been the same physically. He’s had shoulder. He’s had hamstring. He’s had stuff.”

The same is true of Herbert's blockers.

KU hasn’t had its starting offensive line in tact since the Texas Tech game. That’s the last time that, from left to right, Hakeem Adeniji, Andru Tovi, Mesa Ribordy, Chris Hughes and Zach Hannon, formed the starting lineup.

Ribordy missed the Iowa State and TCU games. Hannon didn't play vs. Kansas State and Baylor. Chris Hughes was sidelined for much of the Texas game and all of the Oklahoma mismatch, replaced by Larry Hughes. Similarly, Tovi missed part of the Texas game and didn’t play at all vs. Oklahoma.

Adeniji is the only first-string offensive lineman who has not missed a game because of injury.

How much is Herbert’s performance dictated by the performance of the offensive line?

“That has a lot to do with it,” Meacham said. “And then in that West Virginia game we did some things a little different than we had shown and that kind of hurt them.”

Kansas has a good back in Herbert when he’s healthy and running behind a healthy line, so if those two factors twin up far more often in 2018, he could have a big junior season.

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