They say good things come to those who wait. The same could be said for those who earn what’s coming to them.
If he never had before, those are lessons that Texas Longhorns true freshman running back Bijan Robinson is learning throughout his first season on the Forty Acres.
Robinson arrived in Austin as the first top-ranked running back to sign with the Longhorns since Johnathan Gray in 2012, accompanied by expectations of true greatness, and sooner rather than later. But three games into his collegiate career — excluding his absence against TCU after suffering a back strain against Texas Tech — Robinson had just 14 carries for 67 yards to his name, with a significant chunk of that coming on a single 29-yard burst against UTEP. Meanwhile, junior Keaontay Ingram and sophomore Roschon Johnson collectively produced 330 yards on 67 attempts.
However, that inability by either to separate themselves as the bell-cow back — or even the alpha among the bunch — coupled with Johnson battling a shoulder injury and Ingram being sidelined with an ankle sprain, has opened the door for increased opportunities for the true freshman.
And with those opportunities, Robinson is beginning to stake his claim as arguably the top option Texas has going forward, providing flashes of why he was regarded as the No. 1 running back in his class.
Effectively the starting running back at this point, Robinson turned his first touch and the first play from scrimmage against West Virginia into a statement carry, slicing through the Mountaineers defense for 54 yards.
Bijan Robinson’s big run pic.twitter.com/w2JIGexSRB— Longhorns Wire (@LonghornsWire) November 7, 2020
Robinson’s next touch came on the first play of the second Texas drive, and it was even more remarkable than his first, as he spun off of one would-be tackler before stiff-arming not one, but two more, is among the most sensational 18-yard runs you’ll see this season.
Had it not been for a facemask penalty that forced Robinson to toe the boundary, that 18-yard carry may have very well been an 82-yard touchdown burst.
THE SPIN— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 7, 2020
THE STIFF ARMS pic.twitter.com/cCMhTLRXIQ
Robinson capped his career day with a game-sealing 35-yard catch and run on a wheel route to complement his 12 attempts for 113 yards — now the peak of a three-game stretch during which Robinson leads the Longhorns with 227 yards on only 37 carries.
While 37 carries throughout his three most recent outings is certainly a marked improvement over Robinson’s 14 carries during his first three appearances, considering his heightened impact as of late, the obvious question is why isn’t Robinson getting more touches?
“He’s not used to a 20-25 carry day and we’ve got a very, very capable player alongside of him in Rochon Johnson, too,” Texas head coach Tom Herman told the media on Saturday. “And we’ve also got another weapon in the backfield in the run game in our quarterback. So it was not anything other than keeping him fresh and not putting too much weight on his shoulders.”
There’s certainly some logic behind Herman’s sentiments, as the reality remains that Robinson is only six games into his collegiate career and still adjusting to the speed of the game and establishing a level of comfort within the offense.
“It’s all development. I’m good where coach needs me,” Robinson said after his 100-yard effort against West Virginia. “If that’s 20 carries, then that’s fine. But I don’t really focus on that. I try to focus on making this team better any way I can.”
Making note of the two talented options alongside him in Ingram and Johnson, Robinson later added, “For me, it’s just trying to get comfortable in this offense.”
But therein lies the question for the Texas coaching staff — are they willing to allow Robinson to truly establish a rhythm to learn the impact that an unleashing top-ranked prospect can have for a recently-stagnant offense?
Thus far, the answer has been no.
Against West Virginia, following his two explosive runs, Robinson received only two more carries in the first quarter, with the second coming at the 5:22 mark. His next attempt didn’t occur until the 9:55 mark in the second quarter — his only of the second quarter — and his next touch didn’t come until the same mark in the third quarter.
The previous week against Oklahoma State, Robinson enjoyed five first-quarter carries for 39 yards, but he received only two second-quarter carries and more than a full quarter came and went between his second carry of that quarter at the 8:03 mark and his next at the 6:05 mark of the third quarter, which was his only attempt in the third period.
A similar story unfolded against Baylor, as Robinson received only one second-quarter touch at the 13:35 mark and his next carry didn’t come until the 14:55 mark of the third quarter. That eight-yard carry was the first of three consecutive attempts that produced 24 yards and two first downs, but then Robinson’s next carry didn’t take place until the 11:15 mark of the fourth quarter.
That’s quite simply too inconsistent of an effort by the Texas coaching staff to get Robinson involved. Perhaps most evident in that throughout this notable three-game stretch, Robinson has turned 12 first-quarter carries into 128 yards, only to receive just four carries in the ensuing second quarters.
For obvious reasons after Robinson has averaged 6.1 yards per carry throughout his last three contests, Herman was asked about Robinson’s workload going forward and he noted that he’ll likely continue to earn more carries.
In fairness, this is a true freshman we’re talking about, and one who is certainly surrounded by some talent in Ingram and Johnson, but as they work through ailments and he emerges, now appears to be the perfect time to test what Robinson can produce with significant touches, something Sam Ehlinger believes he’s capable of shouldering.
“Yes, I do think Bijan is a guy [capable of 20 carries per game],” Ehlinger said. “He’s physically gifted and he’s going to continue to improve.”
Following the upcoming bye week, the Longhorns will visit the 0-7 Jayhawks and their porous rush defense, which ranks 102nd nationally in yards per game and 111th in yards per carry allowed. To be sure, a strong showing against Kansas isn’t exactly an ideal indicator for future success, but in regards to a young talent with true superstar potential, future success shouldn’t be the question, especially at this point.
Rather, with a defining stretch against No. 17 Iowa State and Kansas State looming, Texas could do itself a valuable favor by testing what it has in Robinson at this point in his progression and how well he can adjust to a heightened role in meaningful games.
But the distribution of carries is out of Robinson’s control.
What’s in his control, however, is simply taking the necessary steps to develop and learn, which includes taking any invaluable advice he can get from Longhorns legend, Ricky Williams, who told Robinson to, “stay humble, stay on the grind, and things will come.” Williams also dubbed Robinson as “Little Ricky,” a nod to the nickname that Williams earned early in his Texas career of “Little Earl.”
“Ricky Williams is a legend,” Robinson said on Saturday. “I’m still just a freshman finding my way in college football. I have so much work to do as a young guy.”