Primed for breakout year, Bijan Robinson will get his shot at heavy workload

Nathan Han

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the August 23 flipbook. 

Bijan Robinson said last year’s West Virginia game was the first time he truly felt comfortable on the field.

On the first play of the game, the then-freshman running back broke out for a 54-yard run and had a highlight reel-worthy stiff-arm on the very next play. But after notching 75 yards in four carries in the first quarter, Robinson got just one carry in the second quarter.

It was the start of a source of frustration for Texas football fans all year long: Why wasn’t Bijan getting more carries?

When Robinson earned Alamo Bowl Offensive MVP honors, rushing for 183 yards but rarely seeing the field in the second quarter after his second score, he was asked the very same question.

“(Running backs) coach (Stan) Drayton has a system and he wants to keep everybody healthy,” Robinson said.

This year, new head coach Steve Sarkisian elected to keep Drayton. But Drayton’s system of keeping his running backs fresh and healthy with constant substitutions might not be sticking around.

In an August teleconference, Sarkisian said his plan is for Robinson to average around 20 carries a game. The most carries the star running back had in a game last season was 16.

“If we can put a ballpark in that 18 to 22 range, roughly 20 touches a game, that puts us in a good position,” Sarkisian said. “That still allows opportunity for other players to do what they want to do and what they can do to help our team.”

Junior running back Roschon Johnson returns, and Texas added Alabama transfer Keilan Robinson as a change-of-pace running back who could add an extra speed element to the backfield. It’s a deep group that Sarkisian called one of the most consistent position groups on the roster.

But success still starts with Robinson, who wears No. 5 in honor of Reggie Bush. Sarkisian coached Bush at the University of Southern Carolina in 2005 when he won the Heisman Trophy.

The six-foot, 200-pound springy Reggie Bush might not be the best comparison for the powerhouse Robinson is in terms of playing style, but at Big 12 Media Days, Sarkisian did mention one similarity.

“The biggest thing Bijan resembles to Reggie Bush is the one-cut ability,” Sarkisian said. “I hadn’t seen that for quite some time, the ability to make that full speed one-cut and be at top speed and get vertical. Bijan has that. Seeing it on tape is one thing. To see it on the ground field level is another. I saw it every day throughout spring ball like, ‘Wow this is impressive.’”

Bush isn’t the only great running back Sarkisian has coached. Sarkisian pointed out that every team he’s coached has a running back, including Najee Harris in his last stint at Alabama as offensive coordinator, with over 900 rushing yards. 

Robinson is the next running back in line to reach that mark, barring injury. He made several preseason All-American lists, was named a preseason watch list candidate for the Doak Walker Award and is projected to have an outside shot at the Heisman Trophy.

If the Texas offense is to reach their full potential this season, giving Robinson the right workload will be a large reason why. It certainly sounds like that is Sarkisian’s plan.