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Banged up Texas OL struggling again on passing downs

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Injuries at right tackle are the biggest culprit.

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NCAA Football: Texas at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

A revolving door at right tackle for the Texas Longhorns since 2014 is hurting the team once again after a spate of injuries to Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson this season.

So even though sophomore Connor Williams is playing at an All-American level on the left side, the ‘Horns are giving up pressure and sacks on freshman quarterback Shane Buechele

After a strong offseason, Nickelson suffered an ankle injury in practice during fall camp and then suffered an apparent knee injury in the season opener when a Notre Dame player fell on his leg.

The injuries thrust Hodges, the other junior college transfer, in to the starting lineup, where he more than held his own — according to Pro Football Focus, Hodges hadn’t allowed a single pressure leading up to the Red River Showdown.

And then he went down, too, suffering an injury in the game against Oklahoma. Since then, he hasn’t quite been the same in pass protection, an area where Nickelson has struggled significantly since he’s been at Texas.

Against Kansas State, Nickelson allowed a sack and three hurries, while Hodges gave up two sacks and a hurry.

Last season was a disaster on passing down, as the Longhorns finished last in the country in sack rate. Despite the promising start, Texas now ranks No. 92 nationally in that area and tied for 80th in sacks allowed.

Buechele hasn’t helped at times with his pocket presence, as he generally tries to escape laterally from the pocket when under pressure and doesn’t have much quickness to outrun defenders. Perhaps his height plays a role in his disinterest in stepping up in the pocket to deliver throws, but it’s probably his greatest area for improvement.

The good news is that while Nickelson continued to struggle in pass protection in getting beat three times against a decidedly average Baylor defensive line, Hodges seems to be getting back to his pre-injury form — he was only beat once on passing plays last weekend.

And it’s also worth considering where the ‘Horns were two years ago, when Camrhon Hughes, nicknamed NCAA (No Contact At All) by head coach Charlie Strong, started six games.

There has been progress.

Hodges especially has been a revelation with his ability to play outside after a redshirt season and average spring spent playing guard significantly reduced expectations.

Now he just has to stay healthy.