When quarterback Sam Ehlinger headed for the tunnel after suffering an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder, the Longhorns needed an offensive spark to keep their winning streak alive. Then, Keaontay Ingram answered the call.
Ingram, a freshman running back, rushed for 110 yards over just three quarters after not receiving a single carry in the opening quarter.
Even though Ingram was essential in Texas’ 23-17 win over Baylor on Saturday, and is now the team’s leading rusher, he’s still critical of how he would grade his young, six-game career with the Longhorns.
“I’m hard on myself so I might say an F,” Ingram said after the game. “I feel like I could’ve done better with the opportunities I had, I need to take more advantage of it. On a couple of those runs, I feel like I could’ve had more yards, but that’s on me. I’ve just got to get better and better every week.”
Ingram’s big day started off slowly, as his running mate, Tre Watson, had full ball carrying duties with eight carries in the first quarter. Then, Ingram led the way on the ground, rushing for over 100 yards — a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a Texas running back since Week Two of last season.
The lack of touches for Ingram early on was a result of head coach Tom Herman trying to keep both running backs fresh for the game and the ongoing season.
“I feel like that’s just good coaching,” Ingram said. “Coach Drayton and coach Herman, they know what they’re doing. They’re trying to make us last just a little bit longer. If we just keep playing our role and keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep winning.”
While Ingram and Watson both present unique running styles as a powerful tandem for Texas, the big-play ability from the freshman runner has been well noted by the team. Ingram has gathered 15 or more yards on at least one run in five of his six games this season.
“It’s great blocking for him because when you’ve got a guy like him, you’re thinking in your head, ‘If I’m on a long drive and I’m straining to block a defensive player, all I’ve got to do is push a little bit more, strain a little bit more, and Keaontay is going to make something happen,’” offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez said.
As Ehlinger went to the sideline for the rest of the game, Shane Buechele entered to take over at quarterback. Buechele understandably missed on multiple throws in the first half after not playing in a real collegiate game since last year’s bowl game.
As a result, Ingram’s number was called multiple times. Sometimes on multiple plays in a row, Ingram would dart through holes created by the offensive line, breaking tackles and eluding defenders in the process. He went on to tally up 56 yards in the second quarter on just eight carries, also helping to guide Texas to 20 points in the quarter and a two-touchdown lead entering the half.
“The dude just reacts and runs,” Buechele said. “He has places where he needs to grow, but as a freshman, it’s hard to play running back here. All the greats that have been here … I’m definitely happy to see what he’s done and what he did today.”
Buechele wasn’t the only one quick to mention the potential Ingram has displayed through just half of one season as a Longhorn. Wide receiver Collin Johnson, who called the running back his “little brother,” said Ingram’s tough criticism of his performances is a testament to just how successful that he can be for the program.
“That’s how I know he’s going to be a really good player here,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be a really good player if he has that mindset, just always thinking that he can do better. That’s the kind of teammate that you want next to you.”
Ingram has made immense progress as a runner and a blocker over his six appearances this season despite his harsh self-assigned grade. Although most fans would likely disagree with Ingram’s scale, they certainly are excited to see what a good grade would look like.
“I would definitely not give it an F, but the sky’s the limit for that guy, and if he’s playing at an F now, I’d like to see him at an A because nobody could stop him,” Johnson said.