Texas offense had a day in blowout of Rice

Nathan Han, Sports Reporter

For the first time since Roschon Johnson’s former high school days as a quarterback, he took a direct snap.

Then, the junior running back took the rock to the house in a 72-yard rushing touchdown from the Wildcat formation with three tight ends for a 14-0 lead Saturday night against Rice.

“I really believe the more things we can do well the tougher we are to defend,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I’ve never been really just a vanilla guy.”

Everyone ate at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in the Longhorns’ 58-0 blowout of the Owls.

Sophomore running back Bijan Robinson reached the 1,000 career rushing yards mark in the third quarter, becoming the fastest Longhorn to reach that milestone on the ground since Jamaal Charles.

Keilan Robinson, an Alabama transfer and junior running back, got in on the fun as well, showing his explosiveness with a 65-yard touchdown in his first carry of the night right after Bijan notched his record. Even fourth-string running back Jonathan Brooks shined in his debut as a Longhorn, strolling in untouched for a 17-yard touchdown in his first drive.

Junior running back Keilan Robinson sprints down the field in Texas’ blowout of Rice on Saturday night at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Jack Myer/The Daily Texan

But the takeaway from the Texas offense Saturday night was not about the talented and seemingly endless running back room. Instead, Sarkisian flashed his play calling ability that earned him the job  at Texas.

“We’ve always tried to be as creative as we can be to get the players the ball in their hands to be successful,” Sarkisian said. “But ultimately, that has to be something that we do well in practice. I’m just not comfortable calling things that we don’t practice very well. A couple of those things we’ve been working on, and tonight just felt like the right time to start to run some of those things.”

With the offensive line still struggling to hold up in pass protection, Sarkisian dialed up plays to give Xavier Worthy, a true freshman wide receiver, the ball in space, accounting for his seven catches for 88 yards.

Worthy was the benefactor of constant pre-snap motion across the Longhorn formation. Unlike against Louisiana or Arkansas, the man in motion against Rice actually received the ball several times.

And when that man didn’t get the ball on a touch pass from junior quarterback Casey Thompson, the pre-snap motion opened up running lanes for Bijan to feast and Thompson to complete passes off of play action without pressure in his face.

Not everything went according to Sarkisian’s plan. Thompson was itching to complete a deep pass which has eluded Texas all season long.

It didn’t happen, defensive pass interferences aside. A combination of poor pass protection and missed connections between quarterback and receiver limited Texas’ passing game. Sarkisian said a few protection breakdowns need fixing, as Big 12 conference play begins next Saturday against Texas Tech.

But he schemed around his offense’s clear limitations en route to 427 total rushing yards. The offensive line showed improvement in executing the new zone blocking scheme, and Worthy flashed not only his speed but his toughness.

The 160-pound wide receiver finished runs with impunity in his first true breakout game as a freshman, earning praise from Sarkisian for his willingness to earn that extra yard.

Texas won’t be able to run for 400-plus yards every game, though. Thompson will need to take yet another step up beyond what he showed against Rice to secure the starting job and lead Texas through a tricky Big 12 slate.

“I don’t know if we’re going to go out and rush for 430 yards every night,” Sarkisian said. “So we’re going to need that passing game to be there. We just got to keep working on it.”