Bijan Robinson, running backs crucial in topping West Virginia

Jordan Mitchell, Associate Sports Editor

To prepare for Saturday’s upcoming game against West Virginia, junior running back Bijan Robinson carried a football around campus on Monday. 

Robinson had a dominant game at Jones AT&T Stadium against Texas Tech last Saturday, picking up 127 all-purpose yards before heading into overtime, including a 40-yard touchdown run along Texas Tech’s sideline and a 22-yard catch in the first quarter. However, his efforts weren’t enough for Texas to walk away from Lubbock with a win. 

After Texas Tech clawed back through the fourth quarter and forced kicker Bert Auburn to kick a game-tying field goal as time expired, Robinson was given the ball during the first play in overtime. 

Rushing up the middle, Texas Tech’s linebacker core stuffed Robinson at the 23-yard line and brought him to the ground, forcing the fumble that set the Red Raiders up for the ensuing game-winning score. 

While head coach Steve Sarkisian said that Robinson’s fumble wasn’t the reason they lost the game, the running back didn’t take his third career fumble lightly. Per running backs coach Tashard Choice’s orders, Robinson walked around campus with a football, daring teammates and students to strip it away.

“It was in that moment that I fumbled, but it was a big moment, so I don’t ever want that to happen again,” Robinson said.

The Longhorns will need Robinson to rush with the same physicality and poise that he has this season on Saturday. The Mountaineers, who post the 25th-best rushing defense in the NCAA, are coming off a morale-boosting win against rival Virginia Tech, clobbering the Hokies 33-10 on the road.

During the win, West Virginia held Virginia Tech to a mere 35 rushing yards and just one rushing first down. Anchoring the defensive line is 2021 Big 12 First Team fifth-year Dante Stills, who leads the program in career sacks and tackles for loss. 

Despite boasting a capable run defense, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown isn’t underestimating Texas’ running back room. In addition to Robinson, senior Roschon Johnson brings physicality and variety to the Longhorns’ defense, while junior Keilan Robinson is shifty and can trip up tacklers.

“I think he’s probably as good or better than any college football player in the country,” Brown said. “That entire (running back) room is talented and (Sarkisian) is doing a good job at using those guys.”

While Texas has veteran running back depth, West Virginia has a running back at the cusp of stardom. During the Mountaineers’ opening game, freshman CJ Donaldson rushed for 125 yards on Pitt, muscling his way through the defensive line.

A wide receiver and tight end out of high school, Donaldson made the switch to running back during West Virginia’s summer training. A six-foot-two, 240-pound athlete, the Florida product has the strength to cut through defensive tackles but the athleticism to evade tackles from linebackers and safeties. 

“He was never going to be a hand-down tight end,” Brown told The Athletic. “He was always going to be a guy we tried to get the ball to.”

Another pivotal piece of the Mountaineers’ offense is redshirt junior quarterback JT Daniels. A highly touted five-star quarterback from Mater Dei High School, Daniels has played at USC and a series of injuries lost him the starting quarterback gig at Georgia. 

A pro-style quarterback, Daniels can make every throw in West Virginia’s system, but he’s also poised in the pocket. He can pass in the pocket and has four years of college football experience under his belt.

“He is really even-keel, (he doesn’t) get rattled easily,” Brown said on Aug. 29. “He didn’t allow one mistake or one bad luck to influence how he went about the next play, I thought that showed maturity.”

After the loss to Texas Tech this Saturday, Sarkisian said that the team didn’t sleep well, and that they are intent on playing the brand of football that Texas fans witnessed the first three weeks: physical, fast and with mental toughness.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get ourselves to that point,” Sarkisian said. “But we’re not taking anything for granted. We need to come out and play well and play our style of football against a good opponent on Saturday.”