From 10 to 13 to 19, the number of carries per game for Texas Longhorns freshman running back Keaontay Ingram have gone up every week since he carried the ball eight times against the TCU Horned Frogs after sitting out the previous game due to injuries.
Still, that’s not good enough for some observers, who still believe that Ingram should receive more carries. Some believe that head coach Tom Herman and his staff simply don’t believe in giving heavy carries to any single running back.
So when Herman was asked about Ingram’s carries on Monday, he gave the most in-depth answer of the season about how the staff is handling the workload for the freshman running back.
“We got to be careful also, he’s a guy that got here in June and he’s played a lot of football, a lot of wear and tear on his body already, having won all the state championships that he won at Carthage and being kind of the work horse for them, too,” Herman said.
In addition to the 10 games during each regular season, Carthage played an extra six games in the playoffs in order to reach the state championship game against Kennedale and secure a state championship. Carthage won a state title in 2016, too, after reaching the state semifinals during Ingram’s first varsity season as a sophomore.
In other words, Ingram played the equivalent of nearly two extra high school seasons just in the playoffs. Obviously, those games come against higher competition and with higher stakes, increasing the physicality of play and the need for coaches to learn heavily on their best players.
As a result, Ingram had over 700 offensive touches during his high school career.
Compared to the more than 1,200 carries that Johnathan Gray received at Aledo, that might not seem like a lot, but it’s also true that running backs can only take so many hits. And that heavy workload that Gray carried in high school could have factored into tearing both Achilles tendons and never living up to the lofty expectations that accompanied him to the Forty Acres.
“So we’re definitely cognizant of the long-term effect throughout the season and we’re going to use him as much as we need to to win the game,” Herman said. “We feel great with Tre [Watson] as well as Danny [Young]. We feel like we have got three guys that at any given time can do what we need to do to win.”
But what about the willingness to give Ingram more carries?
Historically, Herman has spread out the load in the running game by heavily utilizing his quarterbacks. Last season, for instance, Sam Ehlinger led the team in rushing yards. When Herman was the offensive coordinator at Ohio State in 2013 and 2014, his quarterbacks carried the ball 171 times each season.
With Stan Drayton serving as the running backs coach for each of those teams, as he does currently for the Longhorns, Herman was also willing to give his star running backs as many carries as necessary to win games.
To secure the national championship in early 2015, Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball a season-high 36 times. The fact that Elliott was still fresh enough to run for 220 or more yards in each of the final three games, including 230 yards on 11.5 yards per carry against Alabama, was likely influenced by six games with 13 or fewer carries throughout the season.
During the previous season, Carlos Hyde had 24 or more carries in five games, including 25 carries in the Orange Bowl against Clemson.
“If we got to hand him the ball 22 times to win, then we’ll hand it to him 22 times,” Herman said of Ingram. “But you’re seeing a very measured approach to his workload throughout the season because we’re going to need him in the postseason, too.”
Herman would certainly deflect the question if asked right now about the possibility of playing in the Big 12 Championship game and potentially two games in the College Football Playoffs. However, it’s also the responsibility of the staff to consider the fact that playing three games following the completion of the regular season is still on the table.
Until it isn’t, Herman and the staff have to manage the workload of Ingram with that potentiality in mind.
And, as Herman mentioned, since Ingram wasn’t an early enrollee and arrived on campus less than five months ago, the Texas head coach anticipates significant progress from Ingram as he spends a full offseason in the strength and conditioning program.
“I think you’ll see the big jump from a physical development once Yancy [McKnight] gets his hand on him for nine months.”
You’ve been warned, 2019 opponents.