AUSTIN, Texas — The easy part was all that was left.
The pass was a little bit high and forced Texas Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram to twist on the key fourth down play in the first quarter against the LSU Tigers, but he was able to get his hands on the football. As he tried to secure it, however, the ball got away from him and hit the turf in the end zone at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
It was in his hands long enough for a camera to catch a fan celebrating until she was informed that Ingram had indeed dropped the pass.
With it, Texas dropped an early opportunity to take a lead, compounded by another fourth-down failure near the goal line after sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai came up with another tipped-pass interception. In a game decided by seven points, those were crucial moments.
Just as the team failed to respond well to the adversity created by the first drop of Ingram’s young career, Ingram himself struggled to put the play behind him — his body language on the sideline was poor and he fumbled early in the second half, though he was fortunate that the ball bounced back to him.
Ultimately, Ingram finished with only 10 carries for 29 yards in a game that could have been his coming-out party on a national stage. As the only scholarship running who started preseason camp at that position, he was expected to receive the most carries of his career or at least a heavy workload.
Instead, he was eclipsed in some ways by former quarterback Roschon Johnson, the freshman who changed positions about two weeks ago and looked more decisive and more capable of finishing runs with physicality to pick up extra yardage than Ingram did on the day. Johnson had seven carries for 32 yards.
On Monday, head coach Tom Herman acknowledged that Ingram has to respond better to adversity.
“Yeah, it wasn’t,” Herman said when a reporter noted Ingram’s poor body language. “Just talk, educate. There is no magic pill that I’m going to give him that’s going to, you know, rectify anything.”
Herman also spoke to the entire team about the key difference between mistakes and failure.
“I told the whole team yesterday, and it applies certainly to Keaontay, you’ve only failed once you stop learning from your mistakes and improving. That’s when you’re a failure. Making mistakes is part of life and it’s part of growing,” Herman said.
Fortunately, Ingram is both part of and buoyed by a culture of accountability that represents significant progress in Herman’s rebuild.
On Tuesday, Texas senior wide receiver Collin Johnson told the story of what happened in a dejected locker room following the game.
First it was Ingram getting up and taking responsibility for losing the game because of the drop. Then it was Johnson telling Ingram that it wasn’t his fault because it was only one play before admitting that he thought he left a couple of plays on the field. Next up was junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who took the blame for what he felt was a slow start.
It hasn’t always been like that in Moncrief during recent years.
“If we all have that mindset and that accountability, that’s special,” Johnson said. “I haven’t seen that in a long time. Usually it’s pointing fingers — it’s the defense’s fault, it’s the offense’s fault, it’s this person’s fault, it’s the coach’s fault. This team is so bought in that the accountability is unreal. Through the roof.”
Overall, Johnson isn’t worried about the sophomore running back.
“To answer your question, Keaontay, he’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “He’s a competitor. In sports, you’re not going to make every play. You’re not going to win every game. But we’re striving to, so we’re just going to continue to work.”