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Tom Herman: There won’t be any motivation or focus issues in these final two games

Posted November 13th, 2017

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Tom Herman’s weekly game-week Monday press conference has come and gone.

Here are the highlights:

1. Connor Williams is expected to return this week from the knee injury that he suffered at USC. “Barring a setback, yeah, I think so,” Herman said.

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But that opening question about his All-American left tackle — the first three questions, actually — provided perhaps the most interesting moment of the 30-minute press conference. It concerned Williams’ decision to return to the team vs. the potential decision to prepare for and enter the NFL draft, asked by our own Brian Davis.

“What has been the thought process in the conversations, frankly with you and him, about — let’s be honest: This is a guy who has a future to think about, and this season I’m sure you might be on the bubble,” Davis asked. “What’s your advice to him, two games left, on a 5-5 team vs. his future?”

Herman paused for a few seconds, then bluntly replied: “I think I’d rather keep my conversations with Connor private.”

connor williams-texas longhorns-knee-injury-surgery
Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams (knee) is expected to return to the field this week. Williams earned All-American honors in 2016.

Williams went through non-contact drills last week and was in helmet and shorts on Sunday, but Herman said the real test will come Tuesday. “Tomorrow will be a big test for him — put full pads on, getting inside drilled, bang him around a little bit and see how he feels.”

Herman also said no one knows how much Williams would play. But with him back at left tackle, Tristan Nickelson likely would move over to right tackle, where he and Denzel Okafor would back up Derek Kerstetter.

Kerstetter, by the way, was named a co-offensive player of the game in the win over Kansas; he had seven knock-down blocks and graded out at 87 percent, Herman said. He shared offensive honors with Dorian Leonard. To no one’s surprise, cornerback Antwuan Davis — who was named the Big 12’s defensive player of the week — was also Texas’ defensive player of the game.

2. With two games left, Herman said both Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger will play. Who starts and who’s in the game, he said, depends on the game plan and what’s needed offensively vs. West Virginia and Texas Tech, and game situations.

Buechele started his third straight game against Kansas; Ehlinger, who had missed the previous two games with a head injury, played the fourth series of the game (by design) and also the very last snap.

Kansas lineman Andru Tovi (77) holds on to Texas defensive lineman Poona Ford (95) as he reaches for Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) in the first half of a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

3. Herman was asked about his team’s focus, and whether he was worried any disgruntlement there may be in the locker room from various players might impact how Texas performs in these last two games. The Longhorns need one win to qualify for a bowl game.

“The guys that are playing key roles for us usually aren’t disgruntled, so I don’t think there’s an issue there,” he said. “I think we have a senior class that although small is very well-respected. Naashon Hughes and Poona Ford are as respected as a two-guy tandem as you’ll find in any in the country. There’s a genuine desire of our guys to make sure we get them to the postseason and can play one more game in the burnt orange and white.

“But I also think we realize the potential of this team, knowing that we lost by 5 points to one of the top two or three teams in the country, and we lost by a field goal in overtime to one of the top teams in the country and certainly one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the country. I think that desire to send those seniors out with a bang as well as the confidence and hope that some of the games throughout the season have given us, I don’t see any issue keeping them motivated.”

4. Injury updates: Connor Williams is expected back. Dorian Leonard is out with a fractured foot. P.J. Locke III got out of his walking boot on Sunday but won’t play this week; Herman said the hope is that Locke can play against Texas Tech. And Gary Johnson is dealing with a stinger that’s preventing him from contact. “He just can’t bang on that nerve till he heals. Could be a day or two or four or five days,” Herman said.

Texas (5-5, 4-3) and West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday in Morgantown, W.V. It’ll be carried on ESPN.

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