Just when it looked like Texas Longhorns freshman running back Keaontay Ingram was set to take control of the position after his first 100-yard game against the Baylor Bears back in October, it’s been graduate transfer Tre Watson who has emerged in recent weeks.
Throughout the early part of the season, Watson was reliable as the starter — he averaged between 3.9 and 4.3 yards per carry in each of the first four games — but as he’s gotten further and further away from his season-ending ACL injury last season, he’s gotten better and better.
The breakthrough came against West Virginia, when Watson went over 100 total yards of offense by catching two passes for 35 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown catch, and carrying the ball 14 times for 80 yards.
When Ingram suffered a re-aggravation of his hip pointer against Texas Tech due to a defender hitting him in the side, Watson had to take on a bigger role once again.
Against Iowa State, Watson responded with the best game of his career at Texas, finishing with 93 yards on 14 carries and recording a 39-yard run, the team’s longest of the season.
“I think Tre has probably had his best three games since he’s been here,” head coach Tom Herman said on Monday. “He’s running harder in terms of breaking arm tackles and bouncing off people and not letting the first guy bring him down.”
Watson has been more consistent overall than the freshman, for several reasons. Partly because of luck and partly because he’s more mature physically, Watson hasn’t suffered from the same nagging injuries that have limited Ingram.
“He knows, having played college football for five years, he kinda knows the expectations of how to prepare to get yourself ready to be at your best on Saturdays, and that’s rubbed off on everybody in that room not just Keaontay,” Herman said.
As a result of that experience, Watson has taken on a vocal role in the program even though he’s only been a part of it since committing to Texas in early May.
“Oh, yeah, Tre is a fantastic leader,” Herman said. “He’s gregarious, really, really bright kid, always got a smile on his face, but extremely competitive, too.”
More importantly, Watson has a deeper understanding of his aiming points in the running game and of opposing defenses, so he’s able to be more decisive than Ingram and avoid missing holes.
“Obviously Keaontay still has some work to do with seeing some things, but when he does and he explodes through the hole, he’s pretty talented,” Herman said.
Certainly, there’s no questioning Ingram’s talent — he has tackling-breaking ability and a slide cut that Watson simply can’t match.
What Watson has brought to the table is his leadership ability to help Ingram and the other running backs prepare better. He’s brought toughness as a runner, which is increasingly paying off with explosive plays as he increasingly gets back to full health following his knee injury.
With two backs capable of carrying the load in any given game, the Longhorns running game continues to steadily improve as a result.