Currently, the Longhorns are sitting at .500 entering the second week of conference play. Quarterback Quinn Ewers was expected to stabilize the game’s most crucial position, but a shoulder injury in Week 2 has sidelined him since early September.
Sarkisian does trust that redshirt sophomore Hudson Card can deliver when the game is on the line. But the second-year coach should trust his run game as well. And yes, the run game as a whole, not just junior sensation Bijan Robinson.
Then again, when one has a Lamborghini, they’re expected to show it off as much as possible. Robinson, a favorite to win Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and be the first running back selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, is the Lambo.
Sarkisian has left him in the garage for most of the fourth quarter this season.
“If he’s getting roughly a third of the touches, you know, that’s about the right number,” Sarkisian said Monday. “Right around 20-to-25 is what I’ve always said with him.”
Robinson finished Saturday’s overtime loss to Texas Tech with 16 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns. In total, he tallied 17 touches after picking up a first down with a 22-yard reception on the opening series.
Sarkisian can phrase it however he wants, but the limited reps for Robinson late in games is where fans have become agitated. Last week in Lubbock, Robinson only recorded four carries for 12 yards in the fourth quarter.
This season, Robinson has registered a low of 11 carries for 66 yards in the final 15 minutes. And it’s not as if Roschon Johnson or Keilan Robinson are stealing carries away from him. Combined, the duo has totaled 10 rushes for 65 yards.
That said, Sarkisian seems to be putting his faith in Card’s arm and his defense to close out games.
In the first half of games, Card is completing 69 percent of his throws for three touchdowns against one interception. In the second half, the completion rating dropped by nearly seven percent (63.2). He also has yet to find the end zone.
Meanwhile, Texas' defense allowed Tech quarterback Donovan Smith to throw for 94 yards and a touchdown while leading two scoring drives to send the game into overtime.
Sarkisian said that there will be games where Robinson’s reps count expand past the 20 average. So far, last week’s outing against the Red Raiders were the most carries by Robinson in the fourth quarter this season.
“Naturally, it never hurts us to try to get him the ball,” Sarkisian said. “As we know, there’s a lot of attention that he garners. So sometimes other people create opportunities for themselves because of the attention he gets.”
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Last year, Sarkisian said that he planned on using Robinson more than former coach Tom Herman because “you don’t leave a sports car parked inside when you have it.” In 10 games, Robinson averaged 22.1 touches and 142.2 yards per outing.
This season, Robinson is averaging 18.7 touches per game for 141.5 yards per game. And outside of a few big plays through the air, that number would decrease by nearly 20 yards per game.
Robinson isn’t bothered by his limited touches. If Sarkisian wants to spread the ball around, he’ll be a team player and adjust to the role.
“If it’s a game like that, the defense is on the field for a long period of time, it was just kind of harder to get those kinds of carries," Robinson said. "It’s just the situation of the game.”
Saturday could be one of those days where the Longhorns (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) elect to utilize Robinson as a receiver more than a runner. West Virginia (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) enters the weekend holding opponents to 98.2 rushing yards per game and 3.17 yards per carry.
So far, there hasn’t been a running back to surpass the triple-digit marker against the Mountaineers’ front seven. Will Robinson be the first?
He might have to be should Sarkisian choose to rest Ewers another week in preparation for the Red River Showdown in the Cotton Bowl. Even if Ewers plays, it’ll mark the first time in three weeks that he’s seen action.
Sarkisian said in July of 2021 at Big 12 Media Days that he knows what type of talent Robinson is.
It's time for him to hand the keys to his running back and let him fly down the sidelines for an easy six.
You can follow Cole Thompson on Twitter @MrColeThompson
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