Rice will be easier.
But Keaontay Ingram must put his last game in the rear-view.
For Texas to start what it hopes to be a winning streak three games before the annual showdown against Oklahoma, No. 26 will have play like a No. 1 running back. He must play with grown-man confidence and regain the swagger that accompanied him after a star-studded prep career at East Texas power Carthage.
Ingram’s body language betrayed him during a long night at the office last Saturday. The sophomore runner is the first to admit that he didn’t perform up to his team’s lofty expectations after dropping a touchdown pass in the first quarter and later putting the ball on the ground during a tough 10-carry, 29-yard performance.
He’s obviously a team guy who happens to be his own worst critic, so his post-game reaction came as no surprise to his teammates. Senior wideout Collin Johnson was one of the first to speak with Ingram in the locker room following the game.
“He came in and said, ‘Man, that game was my fault,’” Johnson said. ‘I let ya’ll down’ (and that was) on just his simple mistake on that drop in the end zone we all saw.”
Johnson assured Ingram he was wrong.
“One play, that’s not why we lost the game,” he said. “And personally, I’m like, ‘man, it’s my fault. I left a couple of plays out there. Sam (Ehlinger) felt like he didn’t start fast enough. If we all have that mindset, that accountability … That’s special. I haven’t seen that in a long time.”
So it sounds like the Longhorns have pulled together even closer in Tom Herman’s third year. They’re picking one another up and have bought into the idea of being accountable for one another. Herman noticed that his star runner was a little down in the mouth and wanted him to know what’s pretty obvious to fans who hope to return to Big 12 title game and a major bowl: They need him.
I asked Herman during his Monday media availability how he will pick Ingram up and get him headed back in a positive direction with so much season in front of this team.
“There is no magic pill,” Herman said. “There’s no quote that I’m going to give him that’s going to rectify anything. One, he knows he needs to respond to adversity better in-game, and two, I told the team (Sunday) and it certainly applies to Keaontay: … You’ve only failed once you’ve stopped learning from your mistakes and improving. That’s when you’re a failure. Making mistakes is part of life and part of growing.”
Ehlinger told reporters Tuesday that he went through some similar struggles as a younger player — the overtime loss at USC his freshman year comes to mind — but those struggles have helped mold him into the elite player that he has become. They say pressure creates diamonds; Ingram has placed enough on himself to hopefully emerge as a much stronger player as the season wears on.
“It comes down to maturity,” Ehlinger said. And later, “It’s understanding that we all love him, and we all believe in him. And that doesn’t affect how any of us think and it does not matter in any sort of way. Because we had four other downs down there. So it’s not like that was all on him.”
The 0-2 Owls will provide a nice opportunity to get some bounce-back before conference play begins with a home game against Oklahoma State followed by the bye week, then a road trip to West Virginia. Herman said that injured backs Kirk Johnson and Daniel Young are more likely back after the bye and any time before that would be considered a pipe dream.
So Ingram has to pull it together because the money games are coming.
The good news is freshman running back Roschon Johnson, a converted third-string quarterback, played with tremendous confidence in his first extended action with 32 yards on seven carries. Expect the division of labor to be closer to a 50-50 split, especially if the Horns live up their billing as a 32-point favorite.
“Roschon looks like he’s been doing it for a while,” Herman said. “You forget it’s been 15 days in his life that he’s played that position and he’s gone out against what I think can potentially be a top-10 defense, as good of a defense as we’ve played around here in awhile. And he didn’t flinch. He made some runs.”
A season isn’t defined in one game, and Ingram has plenty of time to put the bad memories from LSU behind him.
Saturday would be the perfect time to start making new memories.