Week Three could have gone many different ways for the Longhorns. Following a heartbreaking home loss against No. 4 LSU, Texas could have seen Rice, a perennial bottomfeeder in C-USA, and let up on the gas. Texas did the exact opposite.
“We had to go out and play and start fast,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I thought both sides of the ball really, really showed that they believed that we had a great week of practice.”
At the forefront of the fast start were the younger players, specifically sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram — getting the first five carries of the game. A week after dropping a wide open touchdown pass against LSU, which proved crucial down the stretch and hurt the sophomore’s confidence, the game plan was to get him involved early.
“The biggest lesson learned (is) how to handle certain situations,” Ingram said. “Everything isn’t going to go your way. You just live and learn from it (and) get better.”
Along with Ingram, freshman running back Roschon Johnson provided a one-two punch with 14 touches for 89 yards and first-quarter touchdown that set the tone for the game.
Once Texas earned a sliver of separation from the Owls, it became clear that the younger players, as well as the backups, would be the focus of the game.
“To have that kind of depth is important,” Herman said. “We knew the load was going to fall on some other guys (that) may not have a ton of experience, but the lights are not too bright for those guys.”
Going into the game, senior wide receiver Collin Johnson was announced out with a hamstring injury. With the starting x-receiver sidelined, the stage appeared set for sophomore Brennan Eagles to take flight against the Owls after stellar performances in his first two outings. But Eagles had a quiet game, with only one catch for 28 yards.
With Johnson sidelined and Eagles grounded, freshman Jake Smith became the featured receiver. Smith led the team in receptions, yards and had two touchdowns in the process.
“It’s been crazy,” Smith said. “It’s just been a whirlwind of emotions and just awesome. I’m loving it. I’m having so much fun.”
Smith’s role has expanded each week, from starting as just a punt returner to running deep seam routes. Despite only playing in only three games, Smith is already comfortable in his new setting.
“Football is football,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, it’s just football. The game I’ve been playing for so long … My confidence is steadily rising. I would say after the LSU game, I felt really good.”
Smith has steadily improved game by game, a testament to his fast learning ability and football intelligence. When he first arrived at Texas, there was an adjustment period as with any young player. But even with the adjustment period, Smith felt he belonged on the first day of pads during fall camp.
According to Smith, Texas has the “best wide receiver room in the country,” a room consisting of two draft pick-level talents in seniors Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson. Now combined with the explosiveness of Keontay Ingram and advent of freshman running back Roschon Johnson, the Longhorns youthful offense shines bright.