SAN ANTONIO — While his teammates celebrated on the Alamo Bowl trophy stage, Texas running back Keaontay Ingram stood as far away from the hoopla as one could get.
The confetti and balloon flash flood raining down in the Alamodome was practically two counties away.
“Nah, I’m not the type of person who draws attention to himself. I’m a low-key, mellow guy,” Ingram said Tuesday night.
Um, Keaontay, you know you play for one of the most high-profile college programs in America, right?
“I know, I know. I know that comes with it,” Ingram said with a laugh. “Now sometimes, I have to go up there, but when I don’t have to, I’m going to sit back here and watch all my brothers get these awards. It’s great to see everybody, man. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day.”
Ingram was so happy to see quarterback Sam Ehlinger and linebacker Joseph Ossai win Alamo Bowl offensive and defensive MVP awards. He was beaming after the 38-10 upset over No. 11 Utah. And he’s absolutely convinced there will be more to celebrate next season, too.
“I’m not going to sit here and promise you anything,” Ingram said. “But one thing I can say about this team, it’s coming. We don’t know when. We don’t know what time it is. But the only thing I can say it’s coming.
“A lot of people think we took a step backward this year looking at the record, and I understand that,” he added. “It’s growth. It’s a process. There’s not going to be straight lines.”
Ingram, who hurdled a tackler and had 108 yards and a touchdown, figures to be a key figure in the 2020 season. He and incoming freshman Bijan Robinson, the nation’s No. 2- rated running back recruit, could become a dynamic 1-2 combo.
Ehlinger is likely coming back for his senior season, although he’s seeking opinions from the NFL. Talented young receivers like Brennan Eagles, Jake Smith and Marcus Washington should all benefit from another offseason of growth.
New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich enters the picture with plenty of tools at his disposal.
“I’m very optimistic about the guys coming back,” Ehlinger said. “There’s a lot of young guys that have a lot of experience and are really, really good football players, so I’m very optimistic.”
New defensive coordinator Chris Ash had to like what he saw. Ossai had nine tackles, six for loss, and three sacks. Defensive backs Caden Sterns, Anthony Cook and Chris Adimora all made critical plays. Even the defensive line was active as Ta’Quon Graham had one sack and 2 1/2 tackles for loss.
“It’s never good to be injured,” Ossai said. “But the one good thing that came out of all the injuries was the young guys that got to play and the experience you gained, and that’s something you can only get during playing time.”
If anything, the Alamo Bowl experience should’ve been a reminder to every Longhorn that they have full control of where this program is going.
Is 8-5 good enough? Or does Texas want to get back to the Big 12 championship game next season and possibly even the College Football Playoff?
The Horns took a step backward this season, but it wasn’t for a lack of physical talent. It was all on display against the Utes.
Texas coach Tom Herman admitted late in the regular season that this coaching staff “wasn’t getting the most” out of the players on the roster. That’s a coaching issue, something he’s attempted to rectify going forward.
Safeties coach Craig Naivar, who was tabbed interim defensive coordinator for the Alamo Bowl, showed these Horns how to improvise on the fly. Roach said players learned “almost a whole new defense that we never ran before” in just eight practices.
Utah finished with just 254 yards, never crossed midfield in the first half and had only three points going into the fourth quarter.
Herman congratulated the coaches and players after the game for acting like pros, both in their preparation and focus throughout December.
“We had three or four weeks to rectify some of the wrongs that happened throughout the regular season and these guys are, again, they are competitors,” Herman said. “They want to win and they want to be put in the best position to win and be taught how to execute it, and then go out and do it with their hair on fire, so to speak.”
More work remains for Herman in the coming weeks. He must finalize the 10 assistants for the 2020 season. Current coaches like Naivar, Jason Washington and Oscar Giles would like to be a part of that, but it’s not up to them.
Texas still has a chance to sign a few more recruits in February during the second signing period. Herman is likely to be active in the graduate transfer market, a place that can’t be overlooked anymore.
Spring football will be here in a blink, and the 2020 season opener at home against South Florida is Sept. 5.
The grind starts anew. But only the Longhorns can determine what they are grinding toward.
“We’ve got a lot of dudes who can really play,” Sterns said, “and I’m looking forward to next season for sure.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.