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Texas' Bijan Robinson's Race For Heisman Begins At Red River

Bijan Robinson could take leaps in the Heisman race against Oklahoma in Red River Showdown

How many times had Steve Sarkisian talked of utilizing running back Bijan Robinson. All offseason, it was the talk of Texas football. 

Will the new Longhorns coach use him similar to that of Najee Harris? Would his words be like Tom Herman and just be nothing more than that? 

So far, Robinson is the focal point of Texas' offense. The Longhorns (4-1, 2-0 Big 12) are at their best when No. 5 is cutting up defenses and whisking in and out of trenches for positive gains. 

"I've said all along, I really think that he's a complete runner," Sarkisian said Thursday. "In our system, that is ideal because I think he can run really well between the tackles. He has the power, he has the short-area quickness and elusiveness we seen numerous times." 

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Longhorns fans have been waiting for this since Robinson's commitment in 2019. Every year since being named USC's offensive coordinator, a Sarkisian-led offense has featured a 1,000-yard rusher. 

In pass-heavy systems, running backs have become lost in the race for the Heisman Trophy. The last time one was featured as a finalist came back in 2017 with Stanford's Bryce Love finishing second behind then-Oklahoma star Baker Mayfield. 

That's not the case the season. Robinson's early success has made him a front-runner for the award. In rivalry games, added pressure separates pretenders from contenders. 

There might not be a bigger game of the weekend than the one found on Texas state fairgrounds come Saturday morning. 

Robinson's quest to become the first running back to win the Heisman since 2016 officially begins against Oklahoma. Sure, beating up on teams like Texas Tech and TCU will pad the stat line. 

Can you do it against a real defense? 

Right now, the No. 6 Sooners (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) rank seventh nationally in run defense, limiting opponents to just 79.4 yards per game and 2.69 yards per carry. 

It's not just containing the run Oklahoma prides itself in. Forcing quarterbacks into making mistakes is another area of expertise. Under defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch, the trio of Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas, and Perrion Winfrey have made life difficult for game planning. 

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So far, the three have combined for 35 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks on the season.

"Both teams are physical up front," Sarkisian said. "I think both teams are going to have an impact on the game."

Robinson is coming off a career game in Fort Worth against TCU. He recorded career highs in carries (35) and rushing yards (216) to carry Texas to a 32-27 victory over the Horned Frogs. 

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If quarterback Casey Thompson can't find consistency, Sark must trust his lead back to carry the weight once more. 

“I can handle as many (reps) as a team needs,” Robinson said Monday. “It doesn’t matter what (the number) is.”

Robinson doesn't just win with a certain "skill" either. Some runners use vision to win at the line of scrimmage. Others have the power to break through arm tackles and several win with pure speed. 

Who's to say Robinson doesn't embody all those traits? His head coach won't. 

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"I've always said he's had the one-cut ability of Reggie Bush," Sarkisian said of Robinson. "He really is a complete player. He's got the route-running, the ball skills, all those things." 

Truth be told, the start of the new campaign is similar to that of Bush's Heisman season at USC. Robinson currently ranks second among FBS players in rushing (652), but he leads the nation in scrimmage yards (819).

In 2005, Bush ranked third in rushing (1,740) behind Washington State's Jerome Harrison (1,900) and Memphis' DeAngelo Williams (1,964). He did, however, lead the nation in scrimmage yards (2,218). 

Funny how a player dons the number of an idol and produces similar results. Will a Heisman follow suit? 

This week, Texas elected to ease Robinson's workload during practice. Carrying the ball 30-plus reps is a high ask, but it's one needed at times to win. 

Sarkisian's plan to use his "Ferrari" runner on the open road of football fields is living up to standard. And history shows Texas is at its best when they have an effective run game. 

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Anyone else forget about Ricky Williams? Earl Campbell? Cedric Benson? And who was the leading rusher when Texas won it all in 2005? 

Jamaal Charles was his name. He ranks fourth all-time rushing. 

Texas might elect to trust its passing attack with Thompson. The way Sarkisian speaks of implementing his best offensive player, Robinson should see at least more than seven carries this time around at the Cotton Bowl. 

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