Entering the season, sophomore Keaontay Ingram was expected to emerge as the feature back for the Texas Longhorns.
That hasn’t exactly come to fruition.
Despite adding 20 pounds to his frame during the offseason and largely enjoying the health he lacked last season, likely thanks in large part to those additional 20 pounds, inconsistency has overshadowed Ingram throughout the first half of his second season in Austin. Ingram’s struggles opened the door for quarterback-turned-running-back Roschon Johnson, who has quickly ascended from emergency option to a reliable reserve, and now, potentially the starting Texas running back.
“I don’t know,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said on Monday when asked if Johnson will start against Kansas. “I’ll know after this week of practice.”
To that end, the reporter’s follow-up question regarding any uncertainty as to whether or not Johnson will start was simply due to not wanted to promote him over Ingram, despite back-to-back impressive showings.
“So is Keaontay,” Herman responded when it was noted that Johnson has been “delivering” for Texas. “Keaontay rushed for 120-something yards against Oklahoma State, too. We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
It was only three games ago that Ingram rushed for a career-best 114 yards as a headliner in Texas’ 36-30 win over Oklahoma State. Throughout the two games since, a win over West Virginia and a loss to Oklahoma, Ingram has produced only 27 yards on a mere 13 attempts.
Not only are those numbers underwhelming, to say the least, but during that same stretch, Johnson rushed for a career-high 121 yards against West Virginia, and followed that effort up with 95 yards on only eight attempts against the Sooners, courtesy of a key 57-yard explosion that Johnson capped up with a touchdown on the very next play to tie the game.
Behind his 216 rushing yards throughout the last two games, it’s Johnson who is surprisingly the Longhorns’ leading rusher with 363 yards — 41 more than Ingram thus far — a developed few, if any expected at the season’s mid-point.
“He plays fearless. He plays tough. He plays aggressive,” Herman said of Johnson. “He’s got to clean some things up from a protection standpoint, but really liked the progress that he’s made in whatever it is, two months of playing that position.”
Johnson’s apparent progress at the position isn’t being overlooked — that much has been evident with the workload distribution.
Granted, Ingram suffered a stinger in the first half of the West Virginia game, which ultimately sidelined him until the second half, but Johnson’s 29 carries against West Virginia and Oklahoma are more than twice as many as Ingram’s 13. Given the offensive productivity he’s brought to the field as Ingram has struggled to find his footing as of late, the seemingly seismic shift in carries isn’t too surprising.
That said, as Herman noted in regards to Ingram, Texas isn’t going to throw the baby out with the baby water, so to speak, and it isn’t as if Ingram simply forgot how to play the position overnight. From a sheer talent standpoint, despite the inconsistencies, Ingram is still the best Texas running back.
But he’ll need to start performing as such or that belief and his status as a starter may alter in Johnson’s favor, potentially as soon as this Saturday against Kansas.