Football

Texas’ Jordan Whittington out six weeks as bad news piles up for Horns’ running backs

Freshman from Cuero headed to Philadelphia to see specialist Dr. William Meyers while Longhorns move LB David Gbenda to offense

Posted September 2nd, 2019

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Story highlights
  • “Don’t be surprised if he surprises some people,” Gbenda’s high school coach Chris Dudley said Monday.
  • Ingram: “There’s a lot of obstacles going in that (running backs) room.”
  • Coaches appeared to have nixed the idea of moving WR Jake Smith to RB. For now.

Monday brought new updates for the Texas pronunciation guide, and more bad news for the running backs.

For the uninitiated, Sam Ehlinger uses a hard ‘g’. David Gbenda, a silent ‘g.’

Texas coach Tom Herman announced Monday that running back Jordan Whittington is being sent to Philadelphia to see renowned surgeon Dr. William Meyers after aggravating his problematic groin injury. Whittington, the star freshman from Cuero, will likely miss six weeks to hopefully fix an issue that’s bothered him since high school.

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Going into this week’s showdown with No. 6 LSU, Herman said Texas’ top two tailbacks are Keaontay Ingram and quarterback-turned-running back Roschon Johnson, “who just started learning the position 10 days ago.”

Sunday night, the coaches moved Gbenda — pronounced “Benda” — from linebacker to running back. The 6-foot, 220-pound freshman played tight end at Katy Cinco Ranch before a permanent move to linebacker.

His experience? Gbenda got 13 carries and scored five times as a high school senior, mostly out of Wildcat-like formations as a bruiser near the goal line.

“Don’t be surprised if he surprises some people,” Gbenda’s high school linebackers coach Chris Dudley said Monday. “When you think of him, he’s very sudden. He’s sudden, explosive. He’s obsessed with the details, and he’s fanatical about learning it all.”

Don Clayton, who just retired after 38 years of coaching, said Gbenda was easily one of the fastest athletes at Cinco Ranch. He was a natural for the sprint relay team during track season.

“If he wasn’t so valuable for us on defense, we definitely would have tinkered with him more on offense,” Clayton said. “It’s hard to find linebackers like him that can run like a deer and hit you.”

Dudley chuckled at the idea that Gbenda, who was learning UT’s rover position on defense, now suddenly finds himself as third-string running back for a top-10 college powerhouse.

“If they give him a chance,” Dudley said, “don’t be surprised if he stays there.”

Herman was laughing about the Longhorns situation, as if there are any other alternatives. Crying isn’t allowed, not with the national spotlight focused squarely on Austin this week with a dangerous SEC foe coming to Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Herman said Whittington had the injury first addressed with a procedure in Houston.

“It nagged him a little bit in spring ball. But he misses zero practices in spring ball,” Herman said. “Nagged him a little bit in summer workouts, but he missed zero workouts. I mean, it did not sideline him.”

Whittington had another MRI a few weeks ago that showed no torn muscles, Herman said. But Whittington aggravated the injury on Saturday against Louisiana Tech after making two catches early for 17 yards. He spent the rest of the night on an exercise bike to stay loose but was held out as a precaution.

Texas running back Keaontay Ingram (26) looks for the call as he scores a touchdown against Louisiana Tech in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Ingram, who battled through a bone bruise injury in August, finished the game with 11 carries for 78 yards and one touchdown. Ingram praised the offensive line but was clearly disappointed with his own production.

“I mean, it’s hard, man,” Ingram said afterward. “There’s a lot of obstacles going in that (running backs) room. Just trying to keep your head up with all the other running backs and stay positive. Feel like God working with us. We’re just going to put it in his hands, go 1-0 every week and keep your head up.”

Johnson, the third-string quarterback in August, rushed seven times for 26 yards. This came one day after he showed up to the football facility throwing up because of a severe stomach bug.

Ehlinger also had 34 yards on eight carries as he remains a key portion of the running game. Asked about his aggressiveness, Ehlinger said, “When I get in between the white lines, it’s hard for me to kind of control that. But I thought I did better.”

Those looking for help from afar need to squint at the horizon. Running back Daniel Young (high ankle sprain) and Kirk Johnson (shoulder) are not expected back until mid-September at the earliest.

Herman appears to have nixed the idea of moving freshman slot receiver Jake Smith to running back. Smith caught four passes for 31 yards going over the middle. Ehlinger and Smith couldn’t connect on one open target where Smith would have run for days.

Texas wide receiver Jake Smith (16) is hit by Louisiana Tech safety L’Jarius Sneed (1) after making a catch during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

That was before the Whittington injury, though.

Herman said the running back injuries will not change UT’s philosophical approach to LSU’s defense. The Tigers had the seventh-best run defense in their conference last season, a middle-of-the-pack average of 138.6 yards allowed per game.

All these injuries sure make things more problematic, though.

“We’re confident in Keaontay. We’re confident in Roschon,” Herman said. “Now, if something were to go awry in the middle of the game, then we’d kind of have to change courses midstream.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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