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Bijan Robinson’s fumble was ‘not the reason we lost the game’

The high-profile mistake in overtime came after the Longhorns blew a 14-point lead in the third quarter

NCAA Football: Texas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Entering overtime against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium, the Texas Longhorns held the momentum following a remarkable drive that went four plays and 46 yards in 21 seconds to set up a game-tying 48-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Bert Auburn.

With the ball first to start the extra period, the Longhorns had a chance to consolidate that momentum, so Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian dialed up outside zone, the best running play for his best player, junior Bijan Robinson.

“On that play we were trying to get a stretch play out, to get the linebackers flowing and for me to cut up and find a crease to get a touchdown,” Robinson said after the game. “But when I did cut up the linebacker came and hit me the ball just slipped out. That was a mistake from me, so I just have to live with it and pray on it.”

The first issue on the play happened when sophomore tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders missed his block on the back-side linebacker. And then, perhaps because he was anticipating the cutback instead of looking for a play-side hole, Robinson had the football in his left arm, on the same side he was hit by the defender, who put his shoulder directly on the ball, knocking it free.

Texas Tech recovered and swung the game quickly as running back Sa’Rodrick Thompson picked up 17 yards on first down when senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown came on a blitz off the edge, leaving junior linebacker Jaylan Ford as the only second-level defender. But Ford took several false steps to the field on the orbit motion from a Texas Tech player, ensuring that he couldn’t fill the play-side A gap to the boundary. A poor angle by junior safety Jerrin Thompson and the inability of junior cornerback Ryan Watts to beat a downfield block skyrocketed the Texas Tech win probability to 94.2 percent.

After three consecutive running plays, Trey Wolff connected on his 20-yard field goal, sending the Longhorns to a loss.

But Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday he doesn’t believe the fumble cost the Horns the game.

“That’s not the reason we lost the game,” Sarkisian said. “It’s easy to point out that one play, but there were multiple plays that led to us getting into that position and into that situation.”

After Robinson scored a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to take a 14-point lead, Texas struggled offensively over the next three drives. The defense wasn’t able to get off the field, immediately running 25 plays over two drives that resulted in a touchdown and a turnover on downs at the goal line that eventually led to starting field position at the Texas 35-yard line and another touchdown to tie the game five plays later.

On Texas Tech’s final drive in regulation, quarterback Donovan Smith fumbled, but was able to recover it and then convert a 4th and 3 as the defense failed to stop a fourth-down attempt for the sixth time in the Red Raiders, allowing the Red Raiders to kick the go-ahead field goal.

Sarkisian said Robinson’s teammates didn’t blame him for the loss, either.

“I don’t think anybody faults Bijan’s effort or intent or anything that he does,” Sarkisian said. “And I think naturally, the way he practices, the way he goes about his business on and off the field, I think there was a lot of empathy for him. And that’s what great teams do — they pick each other up, and I think our guys did that.”

Not long after Sarkisian’s press conference, Robinson agreed with that assessment.

“We have to move on from it and I appreciate this team a lot because obviously on my last play of the game, I fumbled, but the whole team was always right next to me and just close to me and just saying, ‘We got you, you gotta keep your head up’ and it really encouraged me because my faith takes me so high and I try not to really get down on myself but the teammates and the coaches really helped me out in that situation. So I just know, that’s the kind of team we have and I know that we just really love each other and we just want to just continue to get better.”

Robinson’s hasn’t completely moved on, though — position coach Tashard Choice, in an old coaching tactic, gave Robinson a football to carry around this week on campus and at the Texas football facilities. Teammates have tried to knock it out. And so did one student while Robinson was walking around campus.

So far so good.

“I don’t want that to ever happen again,” said Robinson, who has only fumbled three times in his 400 career touches at Texas.