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Glimpses of freshman running back Bijan Robinson’s ability were revealed in touches during the early portion of the Valero Alamo Bowl. First, a 27-yard rush, then an 8-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, then a 50-yard run followed by a 14-yard touchdown reception a few drives later.
Then, he disappeared.
Robinson received one touch in the second quarter and Texas’ offense stalled. The Colorado Buffaloes began to inch their way back into the Valero Alamo Bowl, and Texas held a one-score lead at the half.
On the first play of the second half, Robinson set things straight. He rushed for 66 yards to set up another Longhorn score, and Texas cruised the rest of the way past an overmatched Colorado Buffalo team to win the Alamo Bowl, 55-23.
The freshman phenom, who has already drawn the moniker “Little Ricky,” amassed 220 yards and three touchdowns on 12 touches on his way toward offensive MVP honors. He averaged 18.3 yards per carry, better than the 17.7 he averaged during his senior season in Arizona at Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic. His combined performance lead to the obvious question, where was he for the second 15 minutes?
“We went through a bit of a lull there in the second quarter that we were just trying to jump start some things,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “We’re going to rotate our backs. We’re going to keep them fresh.”
Maybe Herman was proved right with Robinson’s 116 second-half yards. Maybe Robinson would have accumulated more had he received workhorse-level carries versus Colorado.
Either way, when Robinson received the football, good things happened for the Texas offense.
In the first Longhorn drive, Robinson took the first down carry off left tackle 27 yards. Then, Texas moved into scoring position via a long pass to Joshua Moore. Robinson then ran off left tackle for an eight-yard touchdown run ending in a full-extension dive.
Texas was stuffed on its next drive after a fourth down speed option play. Robinson was on the sideline for the play. The next UT drive saw Robinson once again step between the lines, smile and all.
“I even smile on the field,” Robinson said. “That’s just my personality. I just love to have fun playing the game. When big things happen and stuff, there’s a smile right back on my face but I still have that mentality that I’m not trying to let anybody tackle me or stop me.”
He smiled first for five yards, then for one yard two plays later. Then 50 yards.
Robinson’s first quarter was the performance of a special back. He wasn’t finished there, though it may have seemed that way. In the entire second quarter, he had one carry for a loss of one yard.
Where did the star go? As he was on the sideline, Colorado made a legitimate game out of what seemed to be a blowout. Buffalo running back Jarek Broussard, a quality back in his own right, scored on a two-yard run in the second. The Buffs added a 40-yard field goal late in the half to make it a one score game, 17-10.
“I do my job,” Robinson said. “I don’t complain about not getting the touches or anything. I just try to work as hard as I can, get blocks, be good without the football, and whatever circumstance happens it just happens that way.
Things almost became complicated for the Longhorns despite the strong first half, or first quarter, from Robinson. Texas senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger was ruled out at halftime due to a shoulder injury. The Longhorns held a one possession lead without the player who has led the program for the last four years.
Didn’t matter. Texas had Robinson.
Robinson took the first carry of the second half 66 yards to the Colorado 13. Life could not have been made easier for backup quarterback Casey Thompson, who immediately found Moore for another touchdown on the next play.
Later in the quarter, Robinson added yet another explosive run with a 21-yard dash into CU territory. The Longhorns could only manage a field goal, but it did so with Robinson’s help.
As Texas was driving late in the third quarter, it held a 34-16 lead. The clock hit triple zero, and 15 minutes remained in the 2020 season.
Robinson made sure to put the game to bed. Thompson threw a screen pass to his back and Robinson did the rest for a 23-yard reception.
“Bijan had some great runs in the second half being fresh,” Herman said. “That’s kind of what we do.”
The Alamo Bowl was a historic venue for the five-star freshman. His 183 yards was the most ever by a Texas freshman in a bowl game, and the fourth-most in a bowl in program history by a player in any classification. Those 183 yards also were the most by a true freshman in a bowl in Big 12 history.
“I don’t think he’s hit his ceiling yet,” Herman said. “He would be the first to tell you that. He’s still got a lot of work to do. But really, really proud of the way that he has continued to improve and practice and show us in practice each and every week that level of improvement.”
The records weren’t limited to Tuesday night. Robinson broke James Saxton’s school record for average yards per carry in a season with 8.2, 0.3 yards more than Saxton’s 1961 mark for players with a minimum of 75 attempts.
Although there were some interruptions in his performance on Tuesday evening, Robinson showed why he is considered one of the future stars of Texas football.
A star that shines as bright as his smile.
“It’s a joy,” Robinson said. “It’s a gift that God has given me to have fun and be joyful on and off the field.”
-Casey Thompson replaced Sam Ehlinger following halftime. Ehlinger missed the second half of what could be the final game of his Texas career due to a shoulder injury. Thompson wasted no time showing he was ready for the spotlight on Tuesday. Thompson was 8-of-10 for 170 yards and four touchdowns, and helped the Longhorns run away in the second half.
-Every member of the Longhorn quarterback depth chart played in the Alamo Bowl, including Hudson Card and walk-on Ben Ballard. Card was 1-of-2 for five yards. Ballard had one rush for seven yards late.
-Roschon Johnson did not have the same type of night as Bijan Robinson, but still had an opportunity to showcase his skills on a national stage.
-DeMarvion Overshown was named the game’s defensive MVP. He tied for a game-high 6 tackles, forced one fumble, and hauled in an interception
-Joshua Moore caught 5 passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Kelvontay Dixon caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from Thompson in the fourth quarter for his first career score.
-Cameron Dicker hit a 53-yard field goal in the second quarter, an Alamo Bowl record.
Cover photo courtesy of the Alamo Bowl