Football

Texas’ notable number: UT’s increased depth in the backfield — and the number 5

Posted October 10th, 2019

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Each week this fall, we’re looking at a specific number that’s tied to Texas football.

This week’s notable number is five — the jersey number worn by sophomore cornerback D’Shawn Jamison. Five Longhorns have tallied double-digit receptions over the first five games of UT’s 2019 season. The 62 all-time wins over Oklahoma are UT’s fifth-most against any opponent (Baylor, Texas A&M, Rice and TCU).

Five also represents the number of times during Tom Herman’s 32-game Texas tenure that more than two running backs received at least five carries in the same game.

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Texas running back Roschon Johnson (2) celebrates a first down against Oklahoma State. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
This season, Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson have been responsible for all but eight of the 129 carries given to running backs. That distribution can partially be attributed to a litany of injuries. To help build depth in the backfield, Johnson (quarterback), David Gbenda (linebacker) and Mason Ramirez (defensive back) all switched positions at some point.

Senior Kirk Johnson (shoulder) and junior Daniel Young (ankle) have recently returned. Although it is unlikely that he’ll play against Oklahoma on Saturday, freshman Jordan Whittington is nearing the end of his recovery from a sports hernia.

What does a healthy depth chart mean for the Longhorns? Will Texas throw more options at opposing defenses than Ingram and Johnson?

Probably not.

This season, Ingram is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Roschon Johnson has caught 10 passes and is getting 4.9 yards each time he gets a handoff. Both have recorded a 100-yard performance. Last week, Herman said those two players would remain atop the depth chart.

“I think Keaontay and Roschon have earned the right to carry the bulk of the load,” Herman said. “You want those guys to be able to get in a rhythm too and they’ve earned the right.”

The run game under Herman has typically relied on a mobile quarterback and two running backs. In fact, Texas last had three running backs record at least five carries during the fourth week of the 2018 season. This year, Kirk Johnson and Young have both had a four-carry game.

So if those third and fourth running backs are going to sit, what does that depth provide Texas? Insurance, for one thing.  Kirk Johnson, for example, had two six-yard runs after Ingram temporarily left the West Virginia game with a stinger.

Texas running back Kirk Johnson (28) runs the ball against West Virginia on Oct. 5, 2019, in Morgantown, W. Va. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
The backup running backs also have other duties. Kirk Johnson, an oft-injured back who hadn’t carried the football since 2015, contributed on special teams last year. Young was spotted on UT’s kickoff return team in Morgantown.

Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck has said the Longhorns like to give their veteran backs some leeway when its comes to getting a feel for the game. The coaches, though, have expressed confidence in the backups. For their careers, Kirk Johnson and Young are averaging 4.9 and 4.3 yards per carry.

“Certainly if there’s time or need to put someone else in there, we’ll do that,” Beck said.

In regards to the return of UT’s running backs, Ingram said “it’s good to see all those guys progress.” Ingram, who missed some practices in August because of an issue with his knee, also found a silver lining in the injuries.

“As crazy as this might seem, I’ve never been a part of no adversity like this (with) people getting hurt, up, down, up, down,” Ingram said. “It’s crazy, but it’s got a little twist to it. We’re getting positive energy out it, too. The man upstairs, he works in weird ways but we’re going to keep going and keep thriving.”

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