LOS ANGELES — For the past two weeks, sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele has had the biggest name on Texas’ injury report.
That all changed in the second quarter of Saturday’s 27-24 double-overtime loss at No. 4 USC.
All-American left tackle Connor Williams sustained a knee injury and was quickly ruled out of the game. Williams, a junior, was rolled up on by quarterback Jerrod Heard and a USC defender on a designed run. He was helped off the field and was later seen with a brace on his left leg.
A Texas official said Williams would be further evaluated when the team returned to Austin.
Without Williams, a retooled offensive line struggled against a USC defense that had allowed 55 points in its first two games. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, though, was complimentary of his lineman after the heartbreaking loss.
“Obviously, Connor is an incredible player. Everybody in the country knows that,” Ehlinger said. “Next man up, though. The guys that stepped in and the way we moved around up front, they did a great job.”
Texas was already playing without tackles Elijah Rodriguez and Patrick Hudson. Rodriguez, who had been penciled in as the Longhorns’ starting right tackle, has not played since he sustained an ankle injury during the fall camp. Hudson, a back-up on the depth chart, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 56-0 win over San Jose State on Sept. 9.
With three tackles down, Texas replaced Williams with senior Tristan Nickelson. Nickelson was UT’s starting right tackle on Saturday, but Texas moved Denzel Okafor to his spot.
“When somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up,” left guard Patrick Vahe said. “I felt like they stepped up a lot. Whenever Connor went down, nobody hesitated or anything like that. They came into the game, they trusted their technique and knew they had a job to do. I’m proud of them.”
Texas, though, surrendered five sacks on Saturday, three of which were recorded on back-to-back-to-back plays toward the end of the first half. Following Williams’ departure, UT ran 28 times for 60 yards. (The Longhorns only gained eight yards over its seven carries with Williams on the field). Texas’ longest runs were 14-yard jaunts by Ehlinger and receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps.
“It just came down to a team effort,” Vahe said. “It came down to executing each play that was called. That’s what I’m going to fall back on.”
The Longhorns must now hold they breath as they await word of Williams’ fate. The 6-6, 315-pound Williams was an Outland Trophy semifinalist last year and is projected by some as a first-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Williams, who has missed only one start since he arrived at Texas in 2015, is also the only offensive player among UT’s four captains.
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