During a Sunday evening availability, Herman said that junior nickel back PJ Locke III and sophomore B-backer Jeffrey McCulloch will return from ankle injuries, while junior left guard Patrick Vahe’s return is hopeful following an MCL strain against West Virginia.
Locke, the starter at nickel back, hasn’t played since the Baylor game due to a high ankle sprain. With junior cornerback Holton Hill suspended, junior safety DeShon Elliott off to the NFL, and junior cornerback Kris Boyd possibly leaving for the NFL and skipping the bowl game, the secondary is thin. A return to the lineup for Locke would allow Texas to use senior Antwuan Davis at safety if necessary or even push Locke back to safety himself. The Beaumont product played that position as a freshman before moving to nickel back.
A back up to senior Naashon Hughes, McCulloch has missed three games due to a similar injury. With the rise of the Lightning package, which has largely kept the B-back off the field in recent weeks, it’s unclear how much of a role McCulloch would have on defense in his return.
Getting Vahe back would also be significant — he’s now a three-year starter with the exception of his 2016 benching and would give Texas flexibility in deciding the best interior combination between Vahe, junior Terrell Cuney, junior Jake McMillon, and sophomore Zach Shackelford.