'He's an alien': Why Bijan Robinson holds the key at Texas

Ashley Pickle

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ARLINGTON -- Texas defensive lineman Keondre Coburn remembers back to going against the Longhorn offense in a spring padded practice. Coburn exploded out of his stance and got a straight shot at an underclassman running back. 

When the hulking 6-foot-2, 348-pound Coburn hits someone, they stay down. Usually. 

“I really need to change that story around to where I tripped or something,” Coburn said. “I really thought I hit him really hard! I’m about to celebrate and then I see he’s run for 20 yards. 

“I’m like, ‘ain’t this something.’” 

If you watched Bijan Robinson at the end of last season, that won’t come as much of a surprise. Perhaps no player in college football increased his stock more over the last month of the season than Robinson. 

Once the calendar flipped to November, Robinson was unstoppable. The Arizona native exploded for 522 rushing yards, 129 receiving yards and six total touchdowns in his final four games, including three games crossing the century mark. 

Robinson is used to hype. He was the No. 1-rated running back coming out of high school. Fox Sports’ Joel Klatt called him the best running back in America. He ranks top 10 in Heisman Trophy odds at most sportsbooks. 

“It’s a blessing to be in people’s conversations, whatever it is,” Robinson said. “I don’t really focus on those things though. With the Heisman all that kind of talk, I just try to do the best I can for my team because with team success, all the accolades will come.” 

For new head coach Steve Sarkisian, having a place to start building a championship-level offense at UT is invaluable. 

“Every year that I’ve called plays in college football, I’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters at Big 12 Media Days. “I think that’s the center point of everything we do offensively. I think that’s where plays begin.” 

Growing up in the West, Robinson remembers staying up and watching Reggie Bush dominate college football and dreamed of doing the same. It’s the reason he wears No. 5. 

“Every time I touch the ball, I want it to be exciting for people,” Robinson said. “I want it to be a wild play. When Reggie Bush played at USC, I felt like every time he touched the ball, people were out of their seats and ready to see what he could do.” 

Sarkisian was quarterback coach at USC during Bush’s Heisman season in 2005, when the electrifying runner exploded for 1,740 yards, 16 touchdowns and 8.7 yards per carry. Bush’s explosive cuts left defenders grabbing their ankles on the turf. 

"The biggest thing that he resembles with [Bijan] and Reggie is the violent, one-cut, get-vertical," Sarkisian said. "I didn't know whether I'd ever see that again. Reggie had a unique ability to be going full speed, put his foot in the ground, one cut, not pitter patter and then get back to top-end speed very quickly. It was a very violent cut. Bijan has that very similar cut in his arsenal."

After some injuries and an adjustment period to college football, Robinson started to show it. In his sixth game against West Virginia’s top-ranked defense, the game started to slow down. 

On the first play, Robinson lined up in a shotgun one-back set. Sam Ehlinger handed him the ball against a seven-man box, Robinson countered and then exploded to the field side. A safety whiffed. A cornerback was thrown off. The run went for 54 yards. 

“I felt really comfortable,” Robinson said. “It was like everything was coming slower, like even when you get comfortable in high school and things start to open up for you.” 

In the last two games against Kansas State and Colorado, Robinson was a man on a mission. Robinson ran for touchdowns of 75, 30 and 12 in a 69-31 shellacking of Chris Klieman’s K-State. With Ehlinger out with a shoulder injury, Robinson posted an eight-yard rush and 23-yard catch as part of a 220-yard all-purpose Alamo Bowl victory. 

“He’s an alien,” Coburn said. “I don’t know where he came from. That dude works very hard and is very humble. He never takes a play off. He’s trying to win and he’s trying to make everyone great.” 

For how great Robinson was in his last four games, there’s work left to do. He only touched the ball more than 13 times once in 2020, mustering only 54 yards on 16 carries against Iowa State. 

In fact, Robinson rarely ever toted the ball more than 20 times in a game in high school at Salpointe Catholic in Tucson, Ariz. In fact, Robinson carries the ball just 126 times in 11 games. Nearly a third of his touches went for touchdowns. For Robinson to compete to be one of the best in the game, his carries need to go up. 

“We just talked about making sure my endurance is up and making sure that I am ready for games like that,” Robinson said. “I’m ready to help the team, whether it’s 25 carries or 10 carries.” 

Luckily, Sarkisian has made moves to protect the explosive Robinson’s body. The ‘Horns added Alabama running back transfer Keilan Robinson, a former blue-chip recruit. Mr. Texas Football Jonathan Brooks joined those two and converted quarterback Roschon Johnson to make a strong running back room. If those three live up to expectations, the wear on Bijan’s body will go way down. 

“All four of those guys in our backfield, they’re really pretty versatile players,” Sarkisian said. “The point of that is it should hopefully create more opportunity for us, more opportunity for them as individuals and making things more difficult to defend because that is  a tough position to defend when he’s running it, catching it and lining up elsewhere.” 

Expectations are high with a strong new coaching staff coming in. The Longhorns went 7-3 last season and were knocking on the door of the Big 12 title game. Sarkisian is fresh off a national championship as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Several assistants came from that team, perhaps the greatest to ever play. 

The expectations for Texas heading forward are simple: be a national championship program. If the Longhorns get there soon, it will be by riding No. 5. 

“I’m a big guy on faith,” Robinson said. “I know that last year was probably a setback to set up this year because a lot of great things have been happening this offseason. I just believe that God has a plan for this team. I still believe that wholeheartedly because we’re actually going in the right direction. 

“I know you guys probably hear a lot that Texas has the hype. I don’t want people to think we have hype. I want people to think we just genuinely work hard and be a great team that people talk about further on.” 

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