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Texas’ notable number: Longhorn running backs in the passing game — and the number 18

Texas running back Bijan Robinson scores a first quarter touchdown against Louisiana at Royal-Memorial Stadium last Saturday.

Each week this season, we’ll look at a specific number tied to Texas football.

This week’s notable number is 18 — the jersey that Texas has assigned to defensive lineman Ovie Oghoufo and tight end Jared Wiley. Hudson Card and Casey Thompson combined to complete 18 passes in UT's season opener. Earl Campbell rushed for 18 touchdowns during his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign in 1977.

Eighteen also represents the yardage covered on the first touchdown of Texas' 2021 season.

Last weekend's 18-yard touchdown was scored on a pass from Card to running back Bijan Robinson, who found himself wide open after sneaking out of the backfield undetected on a 3rd-and-4 play. The score put Texas up 7-3 in a contest against Louisiana that it eventually won 38-18. 

That touchdown may not have been Robinson's most-impressive reception against the Ragin' Cajuns. In the second quarter, Robinson lined up in the slot and hauled in a 28-yard pass while running an inside route against Louisiana safety Cameron Solomon.

"Route was (fire)," former Texas receiver Collin Johnson tweeted.

Robinson finished the game with four receptions and 73 receiving yards. Among all of that game's participants, those 73 yards trailed just Texas receiver Jordan Whittington's career-high 113. Two of Robinson's receptions were recorded after he lined up as a wideout.

Fellow running back Roschon Johnson also got in on the receiving action. A junior, Johnson turned two catches into 22 yards.

"I think we have a very talented group that can do a multitude of things," Johnson said. "It's a variety of things that we can do. I think it's great that we can utilize every single running back in our unit to do that."

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian has not shied away from using a pass-catching running back in his offense. With Sarkisian coordinating the offense over the past two years at Alabama, Najee Harris had 70 receptions. Harris hauled in seven touchdown catches in 2019.

When asked this week about his Texas running backs as pass catchers and route runners, Sarkisian said "I like our running back room." Sarkisian added that the hands belonging to Alabama transfer Keilan Robinson and true freshman Jonathon Brooks are also considered assets.

"That's one of the things that we like about that position, not only on current roster but what we recruit to, is versatile backs," Sarkisian said. "Our running backs are not one-dimensional in this system. They're inside runners, they're outside runners. They pass protect, they run routes from the backfield, they run routes from split out."

Robinson is coming off a season in which he averaged 13.1 yards per reception and scored on two of his 15 catches. Johnson had eight catches over UT’s 10 games.

Only three times in UT's history — Chris Ogbonnaya (46 in 2008) and Eric Metcalf (42 in 1986 and 1988) — has a Longhorn running back contributed more than 40 catches in a season. Metcalf’s 556 receiving yards in 1986 remain a position record in Austin.

This weekend, Texas will face an Arkansas defense that allowed 259.6 passing yards per game last year. That ranked 102nd nationally. Only two Big 12 teams — Texas and Kansas State — had a worse mark.

Arkansas opened its 2021 season with a 38-17 win over Rice. The Owls completed 17 passes against the Razorbacks. Two of those catches were credited to running backs.