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Bohls: Another big day from Bijan Robinson makes Steve Sarkisian's Texas debut a smashing success

  • Steve Sarkisian checked off a lot of boxes Saturday, including meeting Ricky Williams.
  • Bijan Robinson, no longer held back, had 24 touches and totaled 176 yards and two touchdowns.
  • "I asked him if he was nervous," Robinson said of Sark, "and he said, 'I don't get nervous.' "

By his own admission, Steve Sarkisian was thrilled.

Over the moon ecstatic.

But he wasn’t talking about his debut as the new Texas football coach.

He was talking about meeting Ricky Williams.

“Had some really cool highlights to the day,” Sarkisian said after No. 19 Texas' 38-18 win over No. 23 Louisiana. “Right before kickoff I got to meet Ricky Williams, and that was an awesome moment. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of the greats, but he’s the one guy we’ve missed. To get that done and celebrate with him and Earl (Campbell) was awesome.” 

It wasn’t so much that Sark has a man crush on the 1998 Heisman Trophy. After all, there was another pretty decent running back in the house that Sark kind of likes. But the new man in charge was just checking all the boxes, leading up to his historic first game.

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Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian won his debut game with the Longhorns, riding the big games from redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card and sophomore running back Bijan Robinson to a 38-18 victory over No. 23 Louisiana.

He checked a big one on Saturday. Actually a lot of big ones.

His Longhorns beat a team they were supposed to. They also beat a quality Top 25 opponent and did so fairly handily. To top it off, they looked like a really strong team that played well in every phase and knew what they were doing. Look good, play good.

“For the most part, I thought we played pretty sound,” said Sark, the fourth Longhorns head coach in nine years. “That’s kind of what we were hoping for.”

He had company. A rabid crowd of about 91,113 at a sweltering Royal-Memorial Stadium was hoping for exactly the same.

If no one in this seriously hypercritical fan base has a real legitimate complaint, Sark has to know he’s off to a great start. After all, his predecessor, Tom Herman, lost his 2017 debut and his first two season openers, both to an inferior Maryland team, and looked poor doing so.

On this Saturday against a ranked Louisiana team returning 20 starters from a 10-win season, Texas got exemplary play from a brand-new, nerveless quarterback who directed a turnover-free offensive performance, and was helped by solid defense and strong special teams play, other than a missed field goal and a penalty that wiped out an 83-yard punt return by D’Shawn Jamison.

Sophomore running back Bijan Robinson stiff-arms Louisiana cornerback A.J. Washington in the fourth quarter en route to a 176-yard performance in total yards. Robinson had the first 20-carry game of his career and finished with 24 touches.

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And it also got a breakout opener from potential Mr. Heisman, all-star candidate Bijan Robinson, who did nothing to suggest he couldn’t add a third piece of coveted hardware to the collection that Williams and Campbell began at Texas.

They were pretty pretty good. Hence, Texas’ newly named Campbell-Williams Field. We’re not going to go out on a limb and suggest another hyphen for Campbell-Williams-Robinson Field just yet. But Bijan’s a beaut and a bull of a back, as smooth as a baby’s bottom in the open field with electric acceleration and, as we are learning, he's a top-notch receiver as well.

The sophomore from Arizona not only topped 100 rushing yards with a 103-yard effort and a touchdown, but also hauled in four passes for 73 yards and a score on a sweet design of a wheel route that Robinson said his head coach detected during the game.

“Sark saw something the play before,” Robinson said. “They were moving when we motioned, and both their cornerbacks went to the other side.”

That made for a wide open 18-yard touchdown. He later fell awkwardly after a long run and felt his leg go numb but quickly recovered and returned to the game.

“We started gashing them,” Robinson said. “We saw they were getting tired, and the inside zone started working.”

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Robinson promises he won’t listen to all the hype because “that stuff can get in your head,” so he’ll continue to say how blessed he is. Considering he should flourish under this new system after being held back by a rigid game plan limiting his touches last year, there’s no wonder he appreciates the new boss.

“I asked him if he was nervous before the game,” Robinson said of Sark, “but he said, ‘I don’t get nervous.’”

Nor will Sark get nervous so long as he’s got his healthy workhorse to relieve some of the pressure from redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card, who looked as poised as he did promising with a 224-yard, two-touchdown baptism by fire in the passing game. 

All together, it spelled out a 20-point victory over a touchdown-underdog Ragin’ Cajuns team that signals a sparkling future for the former Alabama offensive coordinator. 

Not that it began that way.

Texas sputtered with a three-and-out series on its first possession, and Louisiana marched 42 yards for a field goal on its second chance with the ball. The crowd grew restless.

“We tried to play out every scenario,” Sark said. “When you go three-and-out on your first drive and things don’t go your way, that’s a time we can maybe start to doubt right off the bat. But we came out and scored on the next drive, and the defense held it together.”

Did it ever.

A defense that regularly blitzed its linebackers and nickel back pretty much stuffed the Cajuns for three quarters. Texas checked the visitors on two field goals for the first 39 minutes of the game, held them to 77 yards rushing and limited them to four third-down conversions in 13 tries. 

It appears that the linebackers are going to fuel this defense. DeMarvion Overshown led all players with 13 tackles, and Luke Brockermeyer had 10, and the two shared one of the team’s four sacks.

The game so went according to plan that the coaches were able to rotate liberally and keep the defense fresh without much drop-off.

“We barely had plays on defense,” said nose tackle Keondre Coburn, who also blocked an extra-point try. “It was like 30 snaps for me. Less than a practice. We feel we did exactly like we said we would do. We say every play we’re going to dominate, and we did dominate. That puts chills in me because that’s a great team. That team is going to win a bunch of games in the future.”

But so is Texas, hopefully.

If the defense can play as many players as this, if Card continues to grow as a quarterback, if Robinson can get 24 touches a game like Saturday and continue to put up 458 yards in his last three games as he has, there’s no real reason they can’t win a bunch of games. Sark sees it and wasn’t afraid to show his emotions.

“He was geeked,” said Notre Dame transfer Ovie Oghoufo, who had seven tackles and a sack. “His first win at the University of Texas. It’s a big job. Did he dance? A little bit. He jumped around a little.”

Coburn, on the other hand, wasn’t buying it for a minute.

“He smiled a lot,” he said. “But he can’t dance."