AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Their egos bruised by two losses in the last three games, the Texas Longhorns hope they are finally getting back some healthy players to help turn their season around.
Among the key players expected back Saturday against No. 20 Kansas State is All-Big 12 safety Caden Sterns, who hasn't played in four games because of a leg problem
The Longhorns (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) desperately need help for a pass defense that ranks No. 127 out of 130 teams nationally. Sterns can cover a lot of ground in pass coverage and in run support.
"Like you saw most of last season, he's got a knack for football and he doesn't mind throwing his body around," coach Tom Herman said Monday. "He's going to study every tendency of receiver splits and backfield sets and translate those studies into gaining a half step or a step on plays."
Sterns has such an impact on the defense that he's still the team's third-leading tackler with 29 despite not playing in a month.
Other defensive players Herman hopes to have healthy and on the field are safety B.J. Foster, one of the team's biggest hitters who has been playing with a sore neck and shoulder, and defensive back DeMarvion Overshown, who has two sacks but has missed four games this season with a back injury.
But those players may not fix everything.
Texas still struggles to rush the quarterback. Foster and Overshown have been in and out of the lineup at different times this season and another big hit or hard tackle could send them back to the sideline. Sterns was the Longhorn in coverage when LSU converted a long third down into the game-clinching, 61-yard touchdown in the second game.
Texas also expects to have freshman running back Jordan Whittington available this week. One of the top recruits in the country, Whittington figured to be a big part of the offense coming out of training camp, but he hasn't played since the first game after having sports hernia surgery.
Having a week off after a 37-27 loss at TCU on Oct. 26 helped his team recover physically and mentally, Herman said. Texas is still alive for a potential berth in the Big 12 championship game.
"Refreshing to have the open week," Herman said. "Our players got to get away and go home. Most of them did. You could tell a lot of these guys, especially the young guys, had really hit a wall."
Texas is still alive for a potential berth in the Big 12 championship game. Another loss likely knocks them out.
"We've left the margin of error very slim. That's OK. We know we're on the ropes," Herman said. "You can do one of two things. You can fight your way off the ropes or tell your trainer to throw in the towel."