While many point to the rise of Sam Ehlinger as the most important factor in the Texas Longhorns’ improved offense, a pair of running backs who weren’t even on the team last year are also playing a huge role in reshaping the team’s identity.
Tre Watson was pinned as the starter in Week One after transferring from Cal in the offseason, but promising flashes from freshman Keaontay Ingram dwindled Watson’s number of carries for a stretch of several games.
Then, Watson responded against West Virginia with his best game in a burnt orange and white jersey, serving as a testament to how much Texas’ run game has improved as a whole.
“It’s a big difference (from last year) because you have depth, number one. And number two, you have guys competing so they’re constantly improving,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “It’d have been very easy for Tre to take a backseat and say, ‘Okay, Keaontay’s the guy, I’m going to pout or do whatever.’ But he didn’t, he worked really hard and it paid off for him.”
Last season, the Longhorns’ leading rusher wasn’t a running back at all — it was Ehlinger, a quarterback who only appeared in seven games. Now, Ingram and Watson have both accumulated more yards than any Texas player recorded all of last year.
Whoever gets more touches in a game, or whoever scores the touchdown on a particular drive, might normally be an issue for some players who are competing for the top spot on the depth chart, but that isn’t the case for Watson and Ingram. Their relationship goes much further beyond that.
“That’s my brother — but definitely I’m the older brother,” Watson said of Ingram. “I’ve been in college and I like to just tell him different things to help him out. He sees stuff too that I don’t see and he tells me things. We just feed off of each other to grow and push each other to be better every week.”
And when Ingram is asked about his running mate, he’ll give you nearly the exact same answer Watson will.
“That’s my brother, I want to see him succeed,” Ingram said of Watson after the Baylor game. “This is his last year. This is it for him. I’m rooting and cheering for him, hope he makes something happen. I tell him every day, ‘We need this spark, let’s pick it up.’”
The rapport between the two Longhorns has given fans and coaches a much-needed sigh of relief from last year’s poor rushing performances.
And though the Longhorns have faltered over the last two weeks, an effective running attack provided by the one-two punch of Watson and Ingram will certainly be an important element in Texas getting back on track over the final three games.
“You need everybody in a long, grueling season like this,” Beck said.