Longhorn lookback: Whittington’s injury poses major issues to running back depth

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

After enrolling at Texas in the spring of 2019, Jordan Whittington waited a full semester and a summer to make an impact on this Texas football team. Yet after just one half of play, it looks like the freshman running back will have to wait once again.

Playing in his first collegiate game, Whittington recorded two first half catches. Sometime in the span of those limited touches, Whittington aggravated an old high school injury, tearing the adductor off his pubic symphysis — otherwise known as a sports hernia. Whittington limped off the field in the first half and never returned.

“I was just upset for him,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “I know how bad he wanted to be out there. He’s an incredible player, incredible person, so to see that happen to a guy so young (and) so early in his freshman campaign, it’s unfortunate.”

The injury left the Texas running back room thinner than likley any position group in the country, with sophomore Keaontay Ingram left as the only healthy scholarship back heading into this week.

“This is mind-boggling,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “Our running back room was supposed to look like this: Ingram, Whittington, (Kirk) Johnson, (Daniel) Young, (Derrian) Brown. … Five of them (are) gone for multiple weeks, four of them being scholarship running backs. So, no, I’ve never heard of it happening.”

The bizarre situation has left Herman with few options behind Ingram. Freshman quarterback Roschon Johnson was moved to running back last week and ran for 26 yards on seven carries in the opener. 

“He’s taken to it like a fish in water,” Herman said. “He’s a really competitive guy. He’s tough. I have no doubt that he will play well regardless of the competition just because he’s that fierce of a competitor.”

The lack of depth at the position thrusts Ingram into a role that few Texas backs have seen in recent years. He will have to take the brunt of the load as a feature running back against a ferocious LSU defense. Ingram thinks he is ready to carry the bulk of the running game on his shoulders.

“The more touches you get, the more settled down you are. Playing running back is all about a rhythm, feel of the game,” Ingram said. “Whatever it takes, at the end of the day, as long as we get the ‘W,’ that’s all that matters.”

While the run game will start with Ingram, it may end with Ehlinger. He had just one designed run against Louisiana Tech, but as he showed in his sophomore campaign a year ago, he is always a threat carrying the football as much as he is a threat to air it out. 

It seems obvious to say that the offense will run more through the quarterback than ever, but Herman said Whittington’s injury has no impact on how the Longhorns will approach this game offensively.

“It will not change the game plan,” Herman said. “We’re confident in Keaontay; we’re confident in Roschon. If something were to go awry in the middle of the game, we would have to change courses midstream.”

The running back room, just two weeks into the season, is vastly different than whatever Herman envisioned heading into 2019. Now, the Longhorns have the task of taking on the LSU defense with one scholarship back and a third-string quarterback.