If you haven't had the chance to appreciate the strength of the Texas Longhorn's running back depth this season, then you're missing out.
It obviously starts with Bijan Robinson, who has continued to make himself into a star with serious Heisman hopes six games into the year. His offensive impact on the field is arguably amongst the best in the country despite running behind a Texas o-line that has had ups and downs in 2021.
But Texas fans have seen early on this season that the running back talent on this year's team runs deep. Roschon Johnson and Keilan Robinson have made a name for themselves and they've done it in a variety of ways.
Robinson, pictured below, displayed breakaway speed in the open field against Rice on a 68-yard touchdown. His speed came in clutch on special teams as well, as the Alabama transfer blocked a punt from the Owls in the first quarter.
Johnson, on the other hand, has continued to out-muscle defenders in the trenches as a power back in Steve Sarkisian's offense. But the former QB hasn't been shy with showing off his shiftiness and speed on more than a few runs this season.
Together, the two backs have combined for 55 carries for 403 yards and five touchdowns. Not much more a head coach could ask for from his backup running backs.
Yet, the two have taken a major backseat to Bijan Robinson the past two games.
In a 32-27 win over TCU two weeks ago, the Tucson native had a whopping 35 carries. And last week in the loss to Oklahoma? 20 carries.
Of course, why wouldn’t you give the rock to an electric playmaker like Robinson? He has shown seemingly no weaknesses at the position.
However, Sarkisian has failed to use the element of surprise that a duo like Johnson and Keilan Robinson can bring.
Their skills could have been a huge difference-maker for the Texas offense in the disappointing loss to the Sooners. The duo combined for zero total touches in one of the biggest games of the season after totaling only 43 total yards the week before against TCU.
Sarkisian has been known to be a creative play-caller, so why not run a package with Johnson out of the wildcat formation? He’s comfortable in the pocket as a former QB, a trait that could have been used for a big play to reignite a Texas offense that struggled in the second half against Oklahoma.
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And we’ve seen how quickly Johnson can make a house-call from a direct snap. Look no further than his impressive touchdown against Rice.
Who knows? Maybe Sarkisian is being patient with this package for a different point in the season. But it became easy for the OU defense to key in on Bijan Robinson in the second half as the Longhorns leaned more on the passing game.
In the case of Keilan Robinson, one could argue his speed matches that of a wide receiver. Still, Sarkisian failed to get him even a single touch.
With Jordan Whittington now expected to miss the rest of the regular season, it could be beneficial to the offense if Robinson lined up in the slot as a receiver to have a chance at showcasing his open-field speed once again.
While Xavier Worthy draws the attention from the defensive backs on the outside, Robinson should have plenty of opportunities to catch short passes from Casey Thompson. His ability to produce run-after-catch yards will make the defense pay or be forced to adjust.
Texas fans would love nothing more than to see Bijan Robinson rack up his yards and touchdown numbers in hopes of becoming a Heisman finalist in December.
But it might be in the offense’s best interest to get Keilan Robinson and Johnson more involved, however that may be.
The playbook might need to expand sooner rather than later if Texas wants to hold a fighting chance of making it to the conference championship game at the end of the season.
The Longhorn’s will have their work cut out for them on Saturday at home against the No. 12 Oklahoma State Cowboys, who ride into Austin with an unblemished 5-0 record.
The Cowboys' defense has allowed only 18.6 points per game so far this season, but hasn’t faced an explosive offense like the Longhorns so far in the campaign.
All three Texas running backs will be needed if the Longhorns want to grab their first win over a ranked opponent this season
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