Texas coach Tom Herman doesn’t need to declare Keaontay Ingram his featured running back this week against No. 7 Oklahoma. His play-calling alone says it all.
The freshman from Carthage may not be the team’s leading rusher, but Ingram is clearly the Longhorns’ best option.
Freshmen have shined in the Texas-OU spotlight. OU’s Adrian Peterson made the “fling” the thing with a thunderous 225-yard showing in 2004. UT’s Jamaal Charles had a blistering 80-yard touchdown run the following year. Pflugerville’s Samaje Perine had 62 yards and a touchdown to help the Sooners win 31-26 in 2014.
Now may be time for the Longhorns (4-1, 2-0 Big 12) to turn the tables.
Ingram is averaging 6.1 yards per carry despite getting just 34 attempts this season, mostly because of a minor knee injury. Tre Watson and Daniel Young are both averaging 4 yards per attempt. The Sooners (5-0, 2-0) may score a ton of points, but they’ve given up a bunch of yards on the ground. OU allows 152.8 rushing yards per game.
“Certainly, he’s ready,” Herman said Monday. “Now, he hasn’t been healthy since week one when we were not quite sure. As a true freshman, you want to kind of ease him into some things.
“Running the football requires a vision and a skill,” the coach added, “requires a bit of predictability in terms of or ability to predict based on fronts and coverages, where a guy is going to fit certain things and how is my O-line going to block certain things. There’s still some growing pains there. But he’s getting better each week.”
Ingram has not gotten more than 10 carries in any game. Part of that is due to the knee injury. He missed the USC game entirely to rest a bone bruise suffered against Tulsa.
Coaches tested his durability against TCU. He carried the ball four straight times in the third quarter — gaining 8, 7, 2 and 9 yards in the process. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger tried to throw it to Ingram on the next play, but the pass fell incomplete.
At winning time against Kansas State, it was Ingram. He touched the ball seven times on UT’s final two drives. Ehlinger hit Collin Johnson for a critical 12-yard gain on third-and-10. Then Ingram had seven- and four-yard gains to set up Ehlinger’s game-ending 12-yard run.
Asked if Ingram was ready to get 18-20 carries in a featured role against OU, Herman said, “Yeah, I think he’s ready.”
In August, Herman broke down his seven scholarship running backs into three tiers. Watson, Young and Ingram were in the first tier. The way it’s working out, Watson is a solid open-field runner, Young is the short-yardage threat and Ingram is the game-breaker.
Junior Kyle Porter found himself in Herman’s second tier. He did not travel to Kansas State, and Herman said Monday the running back is contemplating redshirting.
New NCAA rules allow for players to redshirt in a given year if they’ve appeared in four games or less. Porter played in UT’s first four games and had one carry for two yards. He’s got 468 career yards on 130 carries in three seasons with the Horns.
Herman said Porter continues to practice and he is “more than welcome on our team.”
“You don’t have to read between the lines,” Herman said. “I talked to Kyle and I wanted to make sure him and I were on the same page. Kyle is contemplating redshirting this year. And that’s a decision that we support.”
In discussing OU, Herman sounded downright Mack-ian.
The coach admitted last Saturday that he’d had a phone conversation during the week with former UT coach Mack Brown to get ready for Kansas State. Herman hit all the same notes Brown usually did when looking forward to the Sooners.
“We have to play our best in order to have a chance against elite teams in the country like Oklahoma,” Herman said.
“If we roll in there with anything less than our A-plus game for four quarters, it’s not going to be good,” he added. “It’s not going to be fun. But I think we’ve proven to ourselves that our best is good enough.”
Injury wise, Herman said, “We’re actually on the mend, which is a good thing.” Offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who missed the K-State game with a bacterial infection in his elbow, was expected to be released from the hospital late Monday and rejoin the team.
This is the first time since 2012 that both Texas and Oklahoma are ranked. The Longhorns are riding a four-game winning streak, their longest since 2013. The winner will have an inside track to the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 1.
Herman warned his players to actually tighten their circle of friends right now, not expand it. Things are going smooth at the moment. No need for a radical change in preparation.
“They would look at me like I was crazy if I walked in that team meeting on Sunday and said, ‘Hey, guys. We’ve won four straight games, but because we’re playing in the Red River Showdown, we’re going to do things in practice completely different than we’ve ever done them.
“We’re going to prepare the way that we know how to prepare, the way that we know works, but we’re also going to enjoy the week, enjoy the pageantry and the passion that’s involved in this rivalry.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.