James Gilbert and Jordon Brown entered last week at the top of every significant rushing statistic for Kansas State.
The pair then went out and totaled 8 yards on two carries in a 38-10 win at Kansas. Both of those rushing numbers came from Brown, who took the field for only one drive — it was the Wildcats' final possession of the first quarter — where he carried on the first two plays. He then exited the game and did not return.
Gilbert, who had started the previous seven games at running back for the Wildcats this fall, never left the sideline.
K-State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham is optimistic both will be fully cleared to play in time for Saturday's game at Texas.
“I’ve felt really good with Jordon. James at times has looked good," Messingham said during a press conference Thursday, "and at other times, it’ll be more of a gameday decision, I believe. Even with Jordon, I think it’ll still be that, because whenever you have lower-body injuries as a running back, you could step just wrong, or even in a scout-team setting, you could get nicked up a little bit. Then you back up. Obviously, we need both those guys healthy.”
Though Messingham didn't detail how much either tailback had participated in practice this week, head coach Chris Klieman lended some insight Tuesday. When the Wildcats hit the practice field Monday, Klieman said Brown was "able to do a little bit" while Gilbert was more limited. The hope, Klieman said, was that both would take part in more and more activities during Tuesday and Wednesday's sessions.
One indicator that the graduate transfer pair likely will play?
There were made available to reporters Tuesday; most schools across the country do not allow injured players to talk to the media.
Outsiders might surmise that last week must have been difficult for both players to stomach. Both stressed that assumption couldn't be more wrong.
"It wasn't tough at all," said Gilbert, who has carried 100 times for 558 yards and five touchdowns this season. "If I had had to go, I could have. But it was a coach's call to let the others go. I was cheering them on, being a positive leader. It doesn't matter who coach puts in. Everybody can get the job done. We trust everybody to carry the ball and everybody to run hard. It was just one of those things."
Gilbert said he was confident he would be able to play until just before kickoff.
"I warmed up and I just didn't feel like my usual self," he said. "Jordon went in, and I was supposed to go in the next series, but we were rolling and kept scoring. They were like, 'We don't need you today,' so I just kept it at that."
After his back-to-back first-quarter carries, the coaching staff called Brown over to the sideline. He said he isn't sure who exactly made the decision to rest him the remainder of the game. (The possibilities are Klieman himself, or running backs coach Brian Anderson.) Regardless, Brown received the message.
"They just said, 'You're good. We think Harry (Trotter) and Joe (Ervin) and Tyler (Burns) can do it,'" Brown said.
And they did: Trotter had the best game of his career, ending with 92 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Burns ran for a touchdown in the fourth quarter while Ervin had 46 yards on 10 attempts. That trio combined with Skylar Thompson — the junior signal-caller scored three more touchdowns on the ground one week after posting four against Oklahoma and ran for a personal-best 127 yards, the first time he's ever broken the 100-yard barrier as a Wildcat — to help K-State cruise past KU in a lopsided entry in the Sunflower Showdown at Memorial Stadium.
Unable to help in a physical sense, Brown did what he could.
"I was just trying to keep the energy up," he said. "Guys didn't need the energy boost. Everybody was pumped up before the game. I just try to keep it light on the sideline, tell the guys what I saw on the board when I saw them run and just give them little pointers."
Gilbert is ready to return Saturday against the Longhorns, though he also admitted it was far too early to know for sure Tuesday.
"I'm feeling better. I'm feeling way better than last week," he said. "I just have to see how it goes during practices."
Brown had no such uncertainty.
If it's left to him, he'll see the field often Saturday in Austin, Texas.
"I'm feeling good," he said with a smile. "Hopefully the coaches are, too."