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Texas 55, Colorado 23: Horns have bright future with RB Bijan Robinson leading the way

QB Casey Thompson ties UT bowl record with four touchdowns in replacing senior Sam Ehlinger

Texas running back Bijan Robinson rushed for 183 yards and scored three total touchdowns in Tuesday's 55-23 Alamo Bowl win over Colorado. He broke off 66- and 50-yard runs, outperforming Pac-12 offensive player of the year Jarek Broussard.

SAN ANTONIO — In this unpredictable season, it figures that the most exciting and confusing moments of the Alamo Bowl happened in just 37 seconds. That’s how long it took for the Longhorns’ future to eclipse its past.

Texas got the ball to start the second half at the Alamodome, but senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger didn’t jog onto the field. That sure seemed noteworthy. No worries, though, as freshman Bijan Robinson exploded for 66 yards.

Then, reporters’ phones began buzzing with news that Ehlinger would miss the rest of the game with a shoulder injury. Was his UT career suddenly, abruptly over? Worry about that later as Casey Thompson was out there throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Moore.

“I smiled and said, ‘You’re up kid,’” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “Go do you.”

Said Thompson: “It felt like practice, honestly, I just felt like I was ready.”

And just like that, in two fantastic plays, No. 20 Texas blasted its way into 2021 with a 55-23 blowout win over Colorado. The Longhorns set new school bowl records on Tuesday for points (55) and total yards (638) and finished the season with a 7-3 record.

Herman may have an Oklahoma problem, recruiting needs to firm up and he hasn’t won a Big 12 title yet. But he's also 4-0 in bowl games with the Horns.

“We literally had guys out there that were playing their first snap of college football in the Valero Alamo bowl,” Herman said. “It’s always a good thing to end your season with a win, to send the seniors out with a great taste in their mouth and start the offseason with a lot of positivity.”

Texas head coach Tom Herman is doused with Gatorade after Tuesday's 55-23 Alamo Bowl win over Colorado. The Longhorns are 4-0 in bowl games during the Herman era.

Robinson was simply sensational. The freshman had 183 rushing yards on 10 carries and 37 receiving yards on two catches — both touchdowns. He scored three touchdowns in all and was an easy pick for offensive MVP. He finished the 10-game season averaging 8.2 yards per carry, setting a new school record, better than Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams or anyone else.

The UT coaching staff stopped Robinson better than Colorado did. On four consecutive drives in the first half when Robinson didn’t touch the ball, the Horns went three-and-out every time.

“My smile’s pretty big right now,” Robinson said. “My team, we worked so hard to get here, and get to this point. But I just feel that God has blessed us and we have a lot of work to do for next season.”

Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown was the game’s defensive MVP. He had six tackles, a fantastic interception while drifting into pass coverage, two quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.

Colorado (4-2) had 378 total yards but standout running back Jarek Broussard managed just 82 on the ground and was frustrated all night.

“2020 was a weird season, but like I said, we got a great group of guys that woke up every day to grind and get better every day,” Overshown said.

Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown tries to tackle Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis, who came off the bench to spark the Buffaloes to a couple of touchdowns.

This was a weird season, mostly because of the pandemic. Texas players were subjected to COVID-19 tests three times a week, online course work and endless Zoom calls, much like the rest of us. But they were still expected to show up each Saturday and perform.

Ehlinger, UT’s undisputed leader, bore the brunt of carrying all those fan expectations. He was the one that led sizzling comebacks against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. He was the one that fans focused on for standing virtually alone for “The Eyes of Texas” after the Oklahoma game. 

But Ehlinger didn’t look all that great in the first half against Colorado. He was 10-for-16 passing for 160 yards and was sacked twice. He found Robinson for a 14-yard touchdown reception early in the first quarter that gave Texas a 14-0 lead but also missed on some deep balls.

Herman said he didn't know when Ehlinger suffered his shoulder injury. It's impossible not to think that's how Colt McCoy's UT career also ended, with a shoulder injury against Alabama in the 2009 national championship game.

Ehlinger has not made his intentions known, toying with the idea that he might return in 2021, as allowed by an NCAA rule change. If this was the end, Ehlinger will finish with 11,436 career passing yards, 94 touchdowns and 923 completions — all second-best totals in UT history behind McCoy.

If Ehlinger does leave, as many within the program quietly expect, then Thompson seemingly has the leg up over Hudson Card going into spring ball.

Thompson’s first touchdown to Moore was just the beginning. He threw touchdown passes of 13, 25, 23 yards, but the fourth one was the most impressive. He just unloaded a deep ball to Kelvontay Dixon for a 73-yard score that gave Texas a 48-23 lead. Dropped it right in the breadbasket, too, just like quarterbacks dream.

Thompson ended up tying Major Applewhite’s 2001 Holiday Bowl record with four touchdown passes. All of it came on just 8-of-10 passing for 170 yards. Card did get some mop-up duty and impressed with a quick fling to Malcolm Epps. But the real battle won’t be until spring.

“Tonight it feels surreal,” said Thompson, who has spent three years working and preparing for when he would be a starter. “It feels good for preparation to finally meet opportunity.”

Texas had youngsters all over the field, including five underclassmen on the offensive line. Freshman defensive lineman Alfred Collins made the game’s most impressive play with an interception where he snagged it out of thin air while falling back. Freshman safety Jerrin Thompson also had six tackles, tying Overshown.

There was so much ballyhoo about all the seniors and juniors, six starters in all, that opted out. But as Overshown said, “We recruit players for this. People leave. It’s the next guy up.”

Indeed, the Longhorns march on. This year wasn’t how anyone inside the football complex drew it up, but 2021 looks constructive, if you choose to see it as such. And if athletic director Chris Del Conte has any say, Herman will still be steering the battleship.

“It’s definitely going to be scary next year," Overshown said.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.