Reggie Bush kickstarted his 2005 Heisman run against Arkansas. Why can’t Bijan Robinson?
On lining up anywhere in the formation, Robinson said: ‘(Sarkisian) told me just to be ready for moving around the whole field’
The standout tailback with game-breaking speed and mega-watt smile had 158 all-purpose yards in the season opener. The next week against Arkansas, Reggie Bush went hog wild.
On Sept. 17, 2005, Bush had 125 rushing yards on eight carries and scored on a 76-yard lightning bolt. He caught three passes for 70 yards, including one for a 29-yard score, in USC’s 70-17 rout at the Coliseum. His 16 kickoff return yards were just a bonus.
That game against the Razorbacks kickstarted a run of five straight 100-yard rushing performances by Bush, who sprinted all the way to the Heisman Trophy.
If you’re Texas running back Bijan Robinson, a multi-dimensional threat like Bush, why not dream big going into week two against Arkansas 16 years later? The No. 19 Longhorns (1-0) would sure be appreciative if he did.
“Whenever I touch the ball, I just know I have to do my best for this team and use the gifts that God's given me to create great opportunities for my team, the O-line, for myself,” Robinson said Monday.
Asked if he’s counting rushing yards or receiving yards, Robinson said, “I don't really look at it as total yardage. Whenever I do have the ball in my hands, I've got to make it the best that I can make it and go from there.”
Robinson is on everyone’s radar. He had 176 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in Texas’ 38-18 season-opening win against Louisiana. The sophomore from Arizona was named the Big 12 offensive player of the week and the Walter Camp national offensive player of the week.
Robinson ran it, caught it and lined up just about whatever UT coach Steve Sarkisian asked. The coach promised he’d use Robinson in multiple ways, and that’s exactly what happened.
“When coach Sark said be ready and be prepared, I just knew it was a big step for me to do everything I can for the offense for the whole team,” Robinson said. “And when I did do all that kind of stuff, just to see how it opened up for the for the offense, it was a good feeling.”
This would have never happened last season. Robinson was part of a three-man rotation with starter Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson. Ingram transferred to USC, ironically enough, and Johnson is now serving as Robinson’s backup. Whenever someone was finding a groove, the next running back subbed in on the next possession.
Sarkisian does not believe in rotating players. The best players are going to play. That means Robinson is going to play. A lot.
“I don’t even know I had that means touches” against Louisiana, Robinson said. “But as the game went on, I got more comfortable, and I started seeing things that I might not have seen in the first quarter. So, it’s a good feeling to do what I can to help the squad.”
Robinson has always been magnanimous when asked about playing time under former coach Tom Herman, or the lack thereof. He never complained or lashed out, at least not publicly. Robinson just kept working and finished off the 2020 season with 459 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns in the last two games — after Texas had been eliminated from Big 12 title contention.
How many other star athletes would be content with a reduced workload? Who would demand the football or simply transfer out?
“Well, me, I’m just a humble-minded kid,” Robinson said. “So I’m never going to say something like that. But I call it a setback for this year’s setup. We had to experience that kind of thing to get where we are today to have Sark, to understand this offense and what we have to do to be successful in the offense.
“Now that we do get a lot more playing time and a lot more things to help the team,” he added, “it’s a good feeling for all of us as a team, but even more for us as a running back room.”
Robinson’s story, and how he’s handled it, is a major reason why he’s getting name, image and likeness opportunities, everything from clothing stores to barbeque restaurants. He’s a marketer’s dream.
Sarkisian, who was USC’s quarterbacks coach in 2005 with Bush, clearly understands what he has in Robinson.
Robinson said Sarkisian called for a specific setup on UT’s second drive against Louisiana. Quarterback Hudson Card had Robinson shift in a slight pre-snap adjustment, and Robinson got out wide for an easy 18-yard touchdown catch.
Sarkisian also had the Horns going quick tempo to start the third quarter, which led to Robinson’s seven-yard rushing score.
“I don’t know if you saw on Bijan’s touchdown run, we actually ran the same play two times in a row as fast as we could do it,” Sarkisian said. “We just felt like there was some fatigue on the defensive line and that we were knocking them off.”
All atmospheric conditions are present for Robinson to start strong on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark. One of the Razorbacks’ top defensive players — linebacker Bumper Pool — will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting against Rice.
Senior defensive tackle John Ridgeway also missed the Hogs’ opener after having his appendix removed. The Razorbacks started two senior graduate transfers at defensive tackle against the Owls.
Last season, Arkansas had the third-worst run defense in the SEC and allowed 192.1 yards per game.
Sarkisian is going to move Robinson around the entire field, if nothing else to keep the defense on its toes.
It’s not that hard. Get the ball in your best player’s hands in open space. Then, watch him make plays. Anyone who is averaging more than 150 all-purpose yards per game for an entire season is going to be a national award contender.
Robinson is merely getting warmed up.
“He told me just to be ready for moving around the whole field, from receiver to slot and in the backfield,” Robinson said. “I just told him, I'm going to get ready and that's what we did on Saturday. Hopefully going forward, you guys will the see the same looks from me going from receiver it's running back.”