Roschon Johnson lines up as a wildcat as Texas expands its playbook and runs over Rice
For a few seconds in Saturday night's win over Rice, Texas running back Roschon Johnson turned back time.
Facing a third-and-2 in the first quarter, the Longhorns had Johnson — not starting quarterback Casey Thompson — take the shotgun snap. Johnson faked a handoff to Bijan Robinson and then took off. After shaking off a couple of defenders, Johnson found himself streaking toward the end zone.
The 72-yard run was the longest of the junior's college career. It gave Texas a 14-0 lead. The Longhorns went on to blast Rice 58-0.
Johnson lining up behind the center might have seemed gimmicky. But for him, it was an old trick. Recruited out of Port Neches-Groves, he signed with Texas as a four-star quarterback in 2019 but switched positions ahead of his freshman year.
"Lining up at quarterback, it brings back a lot of memories," Johnson said after UT's most lopsided shutout since a 62-0 win over Baylor in 2005.
Johnson said Texas doesn't have a special name for any play that asks him to snap the ball. Saturday's damage was done out of a run-of-the-mill wildcat formation.
In UT's season opener, he had a wildcat run on a first-and-goal attempt from the Louisiana 8. He gained 2 yards. Texas scored two plays later.
Two weeks later, the Longhorns (2-1) turned to their wildcat again. Johnson said he followed Robinson's lead as his linemen attacked their counterparts. Johnson broke at least three tackles on the play and then beat Rice cornerback Andrew Bird to the goal line.
"It was really just up front, everybody had a hat for a hat," Johnson said. "Bijan led the way, and I just ran off of him."
Using Johnson as a quarterback wasn't the only unusual thing about that 72-yard score. Texas had three tight ends on the field. Senior Cade Brewer was sent in motion just before the snap. Jared Wiley and Gunnar Helm were already lined up in the trenches.
In his postgame press conference, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said: "I've never been just a vanilla guy. We've always tried to be as creative as we can be."
Sarkisian added that he felt comfortable calling that play since the Longhorns had looked good running it in practice.
"We like to present issues for the defense with a variety of looks," he said. "We like to play to the strengths of the players that we have. I really believe the more things we can do well, the tougher we are to defend."
Johnson wrapped up his fourth 100-yard game as a Longhorn with 13- and 27-yard gains. Despite getting only three touches, he was responsible for 26% of UT's rushing attack against a winless Rice team that had allowed 4.9 yards per rush over its first two games.
Robinson led UT with 127 yards, and Keilan Robinson added 83 on five attempts. One of Bijan Robinson's three touchdown runs was a 62-yard score that gave Texas a 30-0 advantage in the second quarter. Alabama transfer Keilan Robinson's first touchdown at Texas covered 65 yards.
Freshman Jonathon Brooks also recorded his first nine college carries. He finished with 63 yards and a touchdown.
With 427 yards, UT claimed its first 400-yard rushing performance since the second week of the 2017 season. The previous week, the Longhorns were held to 138 rushing yards in a loss at Arkansas.
"We said as running backs, we have to take the game over," Johnson said. "That's something that we didn't do last week, and it was evident in the way that we played. We thought that had to be a key factor, that the running back unit had to go out and dominate that game."
If Keilan Robinson or Brooks had gotten more touches in the second half, Texas might have closed in on some history. Texas last had three players rush for 100 yards in the same game in 1969. During that 45-14 win at SMU nearly 52 years ago, Texas got 100-yard efforts from Jim Bertelsen (137), Steve Worster (137), Ted Koy (111) and quarterback James Street (121).