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Inconsistency along the line at the root of Texas offensive woes

Injuries and offensive changes have kept the Texas offense from finding its rhythm.

Kansas v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

After one play against the Kansas Jayhawks, the Texas Longhorns’ offensive line looked like they had finally figured it out.

They created a solid pocket around quarterback Shane Buechele, allowing him to set his feet, step into his throw and deliver a 49-yard bomb to Lorenzo Joe for a score. That was possibly the lone bright spot for the much-maligned offensive front.

On its next drive, after converting on a fourth down to keep the drive alive, the Texas offense saw the series stall due to a sack on 3rd-and-3.

Despite Texas switching to a maximum-protection scheme offensively, Kansas, like most other opponents this year, was able to generate pressure and disrupt the Texas offense. The Jayhawks had a field day against the Texas offensive line in both the running game and pass protection, finishing the day with three sacks and four tackles for loss.

Allowing opponents to disrupt timing in the backfield has been a source of growing concern for Texas fans for quite some time, even dating back to the previous coaching staff.

This season, the Longhorns are tied for No. 115 in the nation in sacks allowed, giving up an average of 3.1 per game this season. In fact, throughout the last three seasons, Texas hasn’t managed to break the top-100 when it comes to keeping the quarterback upright, ranking No. 101 in 2016 and No. 102 two seasons ago.

Texas was poised to turn the corner, this season, finally able to boast the important mix of talent and experience along the front, but injuries arose early and often for the unit.

In fall camp, junior Elijah Rodriguez suffered a high ankle sprain that required surgery, keeping him out of the rotation this season. Two games into the season, Texas lost redshirt freshman guard Patrick Hudson to a torn ACL, severely limiting the unit’s depth. The injuries continued to pile on for Texas as Denzel Okafor, Zach Shackelford and Terrell Cuney all missed at least one game due to injury this season.

Perhaps the biggest hit for the Longhorns was losing All-American tackle and future NFL draft pick Connor Williams in the third game of the season. The junior sprained his MCL and PCL and tore his meniscus in the loss to the Trojans, which doctors initially believed would require season-ending surgery.

These types of inconsistencies, perhaps more than any other factors, may be the reason why the offense — ranked No. 7 in the conference in total offense and No. 8 in scoring offense — has struggled to find success this season.

The only position on the offensive line – and in fact the only spot on the offense overall – with the same starter all season is left guard, held down by junior Patrick Vahe. For the game against West Virginia, six offensive positions are listed as having multiple potential starters – listed as an “OR” on the depth chart – including Shackleford and Cuney at center.

As Texas heads to Morgantown to take on West Virginia, the Longhorns finally seem to be getting healthy along the line. In addition to Cuney and Shackleford, Williams — who dressed but did not play against Kansas — is expected to see the field against the Mountaineers.

Fans hope that the return of Williams — and the consistency he brings — can give Texas what it needs to score points against one of the worst defensive units in the country.