Welcome back, Connor: Williams returns to prove he ‘hasn’t lost a step’

Posted November 18th, 2017


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Connor Williams can still block. And there’s no need to question whether his left knee can hold up on the dance floor, either.

Texas rushed for 233 yards and didn’t allow a sack in Saturday’s 28-14 win at West Virginia’s Milan Puskar Stadium. For the first time in over two months, the left side of the offensive line was anchored by Williams. The All-American left tackle had missed the last seven games with MCL and PCL sprains sustained in the loss at USC on Sept. 16.

Any questions about Williams’ knee were answered on UT’s first drive. Cameras also caught him dancing on the sidelines with teammates late in the game.

“He brings such an X-factor to the O-line because he’s so elite,” Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “He also brings a nastiness that really helps our O-line excel as a unit.”

Williams shook off nine weeks of rust on UT’s first offensive snap. As Shane Buechele dropped back to pass, Williams engaged in a battle with West Virginia defensive end Reese Donahue. Williams pancaked the 263-pound Donahue to the ground.

The Mountaineers were credited with only two quarterback hurries as Ehlinger and Buechele got off 26 pass attempts. (Jerrod Heard also threw a 23-yard pass to Ehlinger on a trick play). The Longhorns averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

Having used some combination of Tristan Nickelson and Denzel Okafor in Williams’ absence, Texas entered the game with the nation’s 95th-best rushing offense (135.3 yards per game). Opponents were averaging 3.1 sacks per game, which was tied the 12th-worst protection in the country.

“As you can see, when we have Connor Williams, that makes a difference in the run game,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.

Williams has appeared as a first-round pick in many mock drafts, so his return to the field could have been viewed as a risk. Earlier in the week, Herman declined to talk about the conversations he had with Williams regarding his future. Williams was not made available to reporters after the game.

Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams (55) prepares to block West Virginia safety Dravon Askew-Henry (6) in Morgantown, W. Va., on Nov. 18, 2017. Williams had missed UT’s last seven games with a knee injury. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas’ Chris Warren III said he felt that “me being the player, I feel like he could have taken the last two (games) out.” Warren, though, said the left tackle is a competitor.

“I’m glad to see Connor back,” he said. “I’m glad to see Connor doing what he did. He was dominating out there, he was doing what he does. He hasn’t lost a step.”

Saturday’s win gave Williams some bragging rights in his own family. Williams’ older brother, Dalton, is a graduate assistant coach at West Virginia. Dalton Williams was once a quarterback at Stephen F. Austin (2008-11) and Akron (2012).

If Dalton had a scouting report on his younger brother, it didn’t help. Texas earned its best rushing total since a 56-0 win over San Jose State — which also Williams’ last full game — and Daniel Young (85), Ehlinger (68) and Kyle Porter (53) all exceeded 50 rushing yards.

“You’ve got a guy that was a first-team All-American, I believe last year, as a sophomore coming back on the left side of that line,” Herman said. “That’s a big boost, a big shot in the arm.”

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