As it’s currently constructed, the running back room for the Texas Longhorns features as much pure talent and potential as the program has enjoyed at the position in recent memory. Much of that has has to do with the surprising emergence of quarterback-turned-running-back Roschon Johnson and five-star signee Bijan Robinson becoming the first top-ranked running back to take his talents to Austin since Johnathan Gray in 2012.
Yet, regardless of the raw, exciting young talent waiting in the wings, junior Keaontay Ingram remains at the forefront of Stan Drayton’s running back room.
Ingram’s notable progression as a sophomore paved the way for that reality, but with Drayton’s room featuring multiple other capable talents worthy of their fair share of touches, enjoying a bill of clean health for the first time is key to Ingram remaining as the top Texas ball carrier.
After adding upwards of 15 pounds to his frame in hopes of avoiding the numerous injuries that likely prevented Ingram from leading the Longhorns in rushing as a true freshman, similar woes plagued his productivity as a sophomore, even before the campaign officially kicked off. Though Ingram did ultimately enter the preseason healthy, he missed the bulk of fall camp after tweaking his knee during an early-August scrimmage. Nevertheless, Ingram put forth a notable performance during the season opener, totaling 78 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries in a 45-14 win over Louisiana Tech.
It initially appeared as if Ingram was set to build upon that performance the following week with No. 6 LSU invading Austin, as he transformed a screen pass on the game’s opening play from scrimmage into a 19-yard pickup. But rather, it was a wide-open dropped pass in the end zone on an early 4th and Goal from LSU’s 2-yard line that would have provided the Horns with an early lead that noticeably impacted Ingram’s confidence, ultimately paving the way for a meager 29-yard showing on 10 attempts.
Ingram’s disappointing Week 2 display then carried over into Week 3, at least in the early going, as his first four carries produced only one yard on a drive that capped with Roschon Johnson hauling in a 25-yard touchdown reception. Ingram’s next two carries? A mere six yards. His final seven carries, however, sparked by a 26-yard touchdown scamper on 4th and 3, produced 67 yards and two scores.
“He bounced back and wound up having a really good game for us, so I was really proud of him for that,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “Not only how he went about the week, but then to how the game started and then after those first couple of runs, he really bounced back and had one of his better games.”
Following five quarters of considerably limited productivity, it appeared that Ingram was finding his footing, and he progressed even further the following week, amassing a career-best 114 rushing yards in a 36-30 win over Oklahoma State. Unfortunately for Ingram, only mid-way through the first half of his following outing, the injury bug bit again, as a neck stinger forced him out for the bulk of Texas 42-31 road win over West Virginia. And though Ingram was deemed healthy for the Horns following matchup with No. 6 Oklahoma, it’s possible that the stinger was at the root of Ingram receiving only two carries in the Red River Showdown.
Quite clearly healthy the following week, though, Ingram recorded his second 100-yard display of the season in a win over Kansas, sparking the best three-game stretch of his career in which he amassed 311 rushing yards, thanks in large part to yet another career-best showing — a 139-yard, two-touchdown effort in a win over No. 16 Kansas State.
The following week, though, tasked with dealing with a daunting Iowa State defense, Ingram’s eight carries totaled only nine yard, marking the second-worst showing of his career. But a week later in Waco, Ingram picked up where he left against KSU, cruising for 86 yards on only seven attempts — that was until an ankle sprain forced an early exit in Texas’ loss to the Bears. Banged up one again, the same ankle sprain was likely at the root of Ingram notching only two carries in Texas’ regular-season finale win over Texas Tech.
After more than a month had passed, though, providing plenty of time to fully heal, Ingram stole the show in Texas’ overwhelming Alamo Bowl win over No. 11 Utah, turning 13 rushes into 108 yards behind a 49-yard touchdown scamper, and adding 26 yards and another score through the air.
All this to say, when Ingram is healthy, the results are commonly 100-yard showings, despite the fact that Johnson nearly matched Ingram’s total of touches out of the backfield. But, of course, Ingram was once again forced out of or battled various ailments in multiple games.
Yet, despite spending nearly a third of the season battling the various injuries mentioned, Ingram produced 853 rushing yards — 145 more than his freshman effort, though he received only two more carries (144) — thanks in large part to Ingram becoming more emphatic and explosive with the ball in his hands, turning 39 carries into first downs and 27 into gains of at least 10 yards. With a clean bill of health, Ingram almost certainly would have become Texas’ latest 1,000-yard rusher, so it isn’t too surprising that Herman said he thinks Ingram is an NFL player.
To look the part, live up to that praise, and ultimately lead the Longhorns running back room over the likes of Johnson and he highly-touted Robinson, Ingram has to stay healthy.