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An already precarious running back situation is now somehow worse for the Texas Longhorns prior to a marquee matchup with LSU this Saturday.
With Kirk Johnson, Daniel Young, and walk-on Jarrett Smith all nursing injuries suffered during training camp, Texas head coach Tom Herman announced Monday freshman Jordan Whittington would be sidelined for 4-6 weeks after tearing the adductor off of his pubic symphysis.
Herman said they are sending Whittington, who has dealt with lingering groin issues over the past two years, to Philadelphia to be treated by Dr. William Meyers. Herman referred to Meyers as one of the “Godfathers” of the operation Whittington will undergo.
“It was repaired in high school,” Herman said Monday. “It nagged him a little bit in spring ball, but he missed zero practices in spring ball. It nagged him a little bit in summer workouts, but he missed zero workouts. It did not sideline him. We knew it was nagging.”
The situation in Stan Drayton’s running back room is worse than it was at the beginning of training camp. The running back group already had thin depth and several unproven players in it.
Now, the only healthy full-time running back remaining is sophomore Keaontay Ingram.
Ingram didn’t live up to his own high standards against Louisiana Tech but still rushed for 78 yards and a score on 11 carries. He wasn’t taxed against the Bulldogs, but he could see his workload increase against a premier opponent like LSU.
“I thought Keaontay played well, really well physically,” Herman said. “I think he was a little too excited sometimes, kind of lacked a little bit of patience on a couple of runs, kind of ran into the back of his O-line a couple of times, and the good thing is when he squirted out of that he usually found a way to make yards and make the first guy miss.”
After freshman Roschon Johnson joined Ingram in the running backs room last week, another fresh face will join in him in position meetings this week. Herman announced Monday true freshman linebacker David Gbenda would practice at running back for the time being.
On the depth chart Texas released for LSU, Gbenda was listed as third on the depth chart behind Johnson and Ingram.
Johnson showed promise at running back Saturday, tallying 9 touches for 40 yards. His understanding of the quarterback position likely helped him understand what was asked of the other role in the Texas offensive backfield.
“I thought he played really well for the limited minutes that he got,” Herman said. “He will certainly get a lot more this week.”
Gbenda doesn’t have that same luxury. He’ll have to prepare for third-string carries against one of the most talented defenses in the entire country.
Putting a linebacker at running back due to four different running back injuries? This is uncharted territory for Herman.
“I’ve never heard of it happening, let alone of it happening to me,” Herman said of his RB situation. “Kudos to Roschon Johnson and Mason Ramirez, and David Gbendas of the world saying ‘whatever this team needs I will do,’ and they’ve done it well.”
Though its uncharted territory, Herman doesn’t anticipate changing too much about how he plans to use the running backs against LSU. Running the ball will be a big part of his gameplan, and he publicly professed his faith in the abilities of Ingram and Johnson.
However, he admitted he knew things could get hairy if RB depth were to become even thinner.
“It will not change the game plan,” Herman said. “We’re confident in Keaontay; we’re confident in Roschon. If something were to go awry in the middle of the game, we would have to change courses midstream.”
Dave Aranda’s LSU defense is a less than ideal opponent to test out running backs , but thanks to a situation Herman said he’s never encountered in his professional career, that likely will take place when the Tigers come to town.