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Will someone please give Texas RB Bijan Robinson the football? Yes, Steve Sarkisian sure will

By comparing Robinson’s running style to Reggie Bush, new Texas coach is fully aware of his best offensive weapon

As Texas running backs go, Bijan Robinson is straight from central casting. Sizzling style on the field, cool hair, a memorable first name and a dynamic personality, too. 

Forget the quarterback derby. Robinson is the new face of the Longhorns. 

Now, can someone just give him the ball? Please? Longhorns fans are practically begging for something that seems so obvious. After all, Robinson ran for 355 yards in the last two games last season on only 19 carries — averaging 18.7 yards per clip. Seems important.

He had a team-high 14 explosive plays last season going for 20 yards or more. Ah, who’s counting this stuff anyway?

From the sound of things, new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is gearing the offense to feature Robinson. Companies are lining up to spotlight the former five-star running back off the field. This season might finally be Robinson’s time to shine.

“I just want this team to be the best,” Robinson said last month at Big 12 media days. “I know you guys probably hear it a lot that Texas always has the hype. I don’t want people to think that we have any highlights. I just want us to really, genuinely, just work hard and be a great team that people can talk about and see for the future going on.”

RELATED:No more rotations, participation ribbons: Under Steve Sarkisian, the best will play at Texas

Texas running back Bijan Robinson takes a water break Friday during the first practice of preseason camp at Denius Fields. After sharing carries last year with Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson, Robinson is expected to take the lead role in the UT backfield.

In Robinson, Sarkisian can picture a bright burnt-orange future with shades of his cardinal-and-gold past.

Sarkisian was the quarterbacks coach for that mighty 2005 USC team featuring Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. One thing you must understand is that coaches hate comparing players. It’s totally against their ethos. But Sarkisian will go there. Such is the power of Robinson’s running ability 16 years removed from Bush.

In 2005, Bush averaged 15.4 carries per game for the Trojans, totaling 200 attempts for 1,740 yards and 16 touchdowns for the season. Just don’t ever remind him about that botched lateral against Texas in the Rose Bowl. 

“I think 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, violent one cut, not lose top speed and get vertical, and Bijan has that. 

Why does Texas running back Bijan Robinson wear the No. 5 jersey? Because that's the number USC's Reggie Bush wore. “I felt that when Reggie Bush played at USC, every time he touched the ball, everybody was off their seats, and everybody was ready to see what he can do and anticipate what he was about to do,” Robinson said. “For me, I want that same energy for the whole team, not just me.”

More:Bohls: Texas' Bijan Robinson looks to have it all, especially the workload

“You see it on tape is one thing. To see it on the ground field level is another, and I saw it every day throughout spring ball,” Sarkisian said. “Like, wow, this is impressive.”

Robinson demurs on the Bush talk. 

“I felt that when Reggie Bush played at USC, every time he touched the ball, everybody was off their seats, and everybody was ready to see what he can do and anticipate what he was about to do,” Robinson said. “For me, I want that same energy for the whole team, not just me.” 

Is that why Robinson wears the No. 5 jersey? “That is why I wear No. 5.”

Once the country's No. 1 running back prospect out of Arizona, Robinson has never broken his humble stride. At least not at Texas. Not last year when reporters poked and prodded the freshman about why he wasn’t getting more carries. 

His teammates see what Robinson is capable of every day.

“Man, I remember me being big, I saw him one time, he was running the ball, and I hit him with all my power, and I thought he was down,” UT defensive tackle Keondre Coburn said. “Next thing I know, he’s up running for an extra 20 yards. 

Texas quarterback Casey Thompson hands off to Bijan Robinson during practice Friday. Robinson, a native of Arizona, was the country's No. 1 running back prospect in the 2020 recruiting class.

“You’ve got to make sure he’s actually down,” Coburn added with emphasis. “Even if he’s down, push him on the ground to make sure he’s actually down.”

Former UT coach Tom Herman believed in rotating the running backs, giving three athletes virtually equal playing time. A new runner came in on the next series. Herman kept that going until Keaontay Ingram fumbled a game away at the goal line against TCU and then fumbled on his first carry the next week against Oklahoma.

Robinson had only five attempts for 17 yards in a four-overtime loss to OU. Looking back now, it’s mindboggling. In a game that lasted 3 hours, 48 minutes, Robinson had seven total touches (five carries, two receptions). Texas ran 87 plays in the 53-45 heartbreaker. 

That same day last October, Sarkisian gave the ball to Najee Harris 23 times for 206 yards and five touchdowns in Alabama's 63-48 win over Ole Miss.

Related:Adios, Big 12: Southeastern Conference presidents vote to invite Texas, Oklahoma to join league

Acting as Alabama’s offensive coordinator last season, Sarkisian rode Harris all the way to the national championship. Harris had 251 carries, second-most nationally, for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns.

“One of the things I’ve learned over my career, sometimes really good runners can go three, four, seven, eight, nine carries, and it may not look very pretty,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “It may be eight carries and 20-something yards, and you’re like, well, they’re stifling the good runner.

“But those really good ones, it only takes one. And then it’s two, then it’s three, and the next thing you know, he’s got 15 carries for 140 yards. So you have to give those really good players those opportunities to feel runs to assess it.”

New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian used the winning blueprint for a standout running back over the past couple of years at Alabama, where he had future first-round draft pick Najee Harris. Sarkisian said UT's Bijan Robinson will get about 20 carries a game this season.

Back in Austin, Robinson couldn’t get any consistency on carries. Think back to the West Virginia game. Robinson had four carries for 75 yards in the first quarter; he opened the game with a 54-yard dash. Then, he got just one carry on three UT possessions in the second quarter. He finished with 12 carries for 113 yards for the entire game.

Robinson said that West Virginia game was the first time he felt truly comfortable. “It’s like going from eighth grade to being on the varsity,” he said. “You have to understand what you’re getting yourself into.” The primary lesson learned against Texas Tech? Never leave your feet, or risk getting folded in half like Robinson did in a must-look-away-but-can’t tackle.

Robinson had 16 carries for 54 yards in a 23-20 loss to Iowa State that eliminated Texas from Big 12 title game contention. At that point, Herman had nothing to lose. Robinson started against Kansas State and raced for 172 yards on nine carries. Then came the Alamo Bowl win over Colorado. He had 10 carries for 183 yards in an eye-popping performance.

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National TV pundits all wondered in unison, “Where had this guy been all season?”

Watching the Alamo Bowl, you couldn’t help but wonder why Herman didn’t run Robinson more than he did the previous nine games. Herman was fired Jan. 2, four days after the 55-23 bowl victory. Robinson finished his first year with 86 rushing attempts for 703 yards and four touchdowns.

Related:Texas running back Bijan Robinson tabbed to all-bowl team

There’s all kinds of speculation as to why Texas changed coaches. There is no one specific reason, UT sources told the American-Statesman. But not playing Robinson more did confuse some high-level decision makers.

Under Sarkisian, all the worries over “The Eyes of Texas” school song and social justice issues have faded into the background.

“Coach Sark came in and said, ‘Men, it’s about the team. We need to focus on what we’ve got in front of us and the opportunities in front of us,’” Robinson said.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson was a huge draw at Big 12 media days in Arlington last month. He's also generated early interest in the name, image and likeness department, signing a deal this summer with the chicken chain Raising Cane's as well as doing personalized videos on Cameo.

One of those opportunities is cashing in on name, image and likeness rule changes. Robinson has already signed with Raising Cane’s as a “brand ambassador” for an undisclosed sum. He’s also now getting $160 for personalized videos on Cameo. “Cameo does the prices; I don’t do them,” he said with a laugh.

As for Robinson’s NIL strategy, he’s “decided to leverage a team of local professionals to help with his NIL endeavors, to ensure he is strategically making the best decisions for his short and long-term career goals,” according to a statement from his family to the American-Statesman.

“With school and football being Bijan’s primary responsibilities right now, he doesn’t want to lose site of his main goals, which are — remaining the best student-athlete he can be, and glorifying God with the talent he’s blessed him to have,” the family statement added. “It was important to find people who would support him in this, and help him stay true to who he is while partaking in new endeavors.”

Robinson will indeed keep his focus squarely on football. 

More:Texas’ Steve Sarkisian won’t look at Longhorns’ recent past, only forward at Big 12 media days

And Sarkisian’s focus is getting Robinson as many touches as it takes, maybe 20 or upwards of 30 if the situation calls for it. Sarkisian kept Herman’s running backs coach Stan Drayton, so continuity helps in that respect.

“We’ll be sure that he gets the necessary touches to make him the best player he can be, but also not sacrifice what we want to do with some of the other guys on our offense,” Sarkisian said.

Robinson said he “never really had over 20 carries ever” in a game playing for Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson. He still became Arizona’s all-time touchdowns leader with 114 scores along with a record 7,036 yards.

Is Robinson ready for a bigger workload? It sure sounds like it. 

“Whether it’s 25 carries or whether it’s 10 carries, I know you’ve just got to be productive on everything that you do get,” he said. “I’m just ready for anything that comes. I’ve just got to be prepared physically and mentally for all that does come next season.”

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