The Texas Longhorns ground game was nearly next to non-existent throughout the 2017 slate.
Such a sentiment could realistically be nominated for understatement of the year.
Just one season after D’Onta Forman scampered for 2,028 yards en route to the Doak Walker Award and ultimately, the NFL, the ‘Horns rushing attack suffered mightily in the absence of a premier ball carrier, totaling just 1,200 yards between four running backs.
Chris Warren III was expected to fill the feature back role as a junior, but by the end of the 2017 season, the Rockwall product had elected to transfer after just 314 rushing yards and a team-required transition to tight end. Kyle Porter, the other returning running back, proved to be an even more inconsistent option, totaling just 261 yards and thus, giving Texas a combined 575 yards on a 3.7 yards per carry average from the two elder running backs who were expected to shoulder the load in 2017.
Rather, Warren and Porter were overshadowed by a pair of true freshmen in Daniel Young in Toneil Carter, who combined for 625 yards, despite Young not seeing a single carry in six games and the two seeing 20 fewer carries than Warren and Porter.
When it was all said and done, Young led the Longhorns running back room with 373 yards, marking the lowest output from any leading running back at Texas since Mike Dowdle’s 345 yards in 1958.
While such a lack of overall productivity was certainly less than ideal for an offense that went back-and-forth between young, injured quarterbacks behind an offensive line that was plagued by injuries and attrition of its own, Texas’ backfield should be much more competent and capable in 2018.
In reality, it would be borderline impossible for the backfield to regress any further, but in any case, the personnel in place should put Texas’ ground game in a better position to succeed next season.
At the start of the 2017 campaign, Texas’ one-two punch in the backfield was Warren and Porter. Aside from their collective 238-yard display against San Jose State, the duo provided less than praiseworthy results virtually every time they shared touches in a single game. For example, in the other six games that Warren and Porter each received carries, the two totaled just 205 rushing yards — Maryland (52), USC (24), Iowa State (83), Kansas State (27), Oklahoma (10), and Kansas (9).
Yet, despite such considerably unfruitful results, it wasn’t until the Baylor game that the staff began shifting the bulk of the carries to Young and Carter.
That move paid off on the stat sheet and on the scoreboard.
Throughout the next three games that each saw carries against Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia, Young and Carter combined to crack 100 yards each time out, totaling 343 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Coincidently, Texas won each of those three games.
It was a recipe for running success that that the staff discovered works a bit too far down the stretch, and could have been the difference at various points had Young not went without a carry in six games and Carter receiving the same treatment in four (one of which, the Texas Bowl, was due to suspension).
Nevertheless, with 2017 in the rearview, it appears as if Tom Herman, Stan Drayton and Tim Beck can enter the offseason focused on developing a new, more productive one-two punch in Young and Carter, who averaged 4.6 and 4.8 yards per carry, respectively. Not to mention the fact that virtually all of their upside remains as the two have each only been away from the high school gridiron for just over a year now.
Soon to also join that bunch to make up Texas’ backfield of the future is Keaontay Ingram, the top-ranked 2018 running back in the state. A four-star prospect out of Carthage, Ingram led the Bulldogs to back-to-back state championships behind back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. A workhorse back who totaled 558 carries and 70 receptions throughout the past two seasons, Ingram can be best described as a blend of both Young and Carter. Bearing in mind that he’ll bring high-level patience, vision, burst, and most notably, the ability to make defenders miss virtually each time he touches the ball, it’s quite possible Ingram sees the field early and often, as well.
As far as Porter is concerned when it comes to this quartet of ball-carriers, all of the aforementioned is both good and bad news for the Katy product.
As is, it’s quite possible, if not likely that Porter will find himself behind Young on the spring depth chart, if not Carter, as well — averaging just 3.1 yards per carry on 81 touches can certainly have that effect. The competition in the running back room will only thicken upon Ingram’s arrival in the summer. While that will put Porter in danger of being buried on the depth chart without considerable improvement, it could also force the junior-to-be to put the 2017 edition of himself in the past and develop into a more consistently competent option out of the backfield.
If that proves to be true, Texas should find itself with four reliable options at running back next season, doubling what Herman and his staff were able to enjoy in 2017.