How Texas football can use Roschon Johnson like Bishop Sankey

Roschon Johnson, Texas Football. Aem Texas Spring Football 2022 30
Roschon Johnson, Texas Football. Aem Texas Spring Football 2022 30 /

Texas football enters the 2022 season with one of the deepest backfields in the entire country, not just the Big 12. Head coach Steve Sarkisian and new running backs coach Tashard Choice have plenty of weapons to work with out of the backfield that should be able to set the tone for this offense this coming season, highlighted by star junior Bijan Robinson and the versatile senior Roschon Johnson.

Given how Sark’s offensive scheme emphasizes setting the tone on the ground first, and then layering in other more balanced concepts as the game progresses, having such a deep backfield will be invaluable to this team this fall. And that’s why it’s so important for the Longhorns to have the most experienced and proven backs set the tone right away this fall between the likes of Bijan, Roschon, junior Keilan Robinson, etc.

But one running back I want to discuss in particular here is Roschon. As the longest-tenured Texas running back on the roster this year and the second-most productive, only behind Bijan, Roschon is set to play a critical role in this team’s success this fall.

The Texas faithful really got to see what Roschon can do when the coaching staff has high levels of trust in his ability and opens up the playbook for him consistently in the regular season finale win over the Kansas State Wildcats last season. Roschon essentially won Texas that game against Kansas State in the regular season finale as he took well over a dozen snaps at the quarterback position.

Roschon is a former converted quarterback, so taking that many snaps at the position isn’t anything new to him. But if there is one thing that the coaching staff takes away from Roschon’s usage in that win over Kansas State is that his ability shouldn’t be overlooked in the slightest this fall.

It’s worth noting that Texas registered a record of 4-1 last season in games that Roschon got at least seven rushing attempts. Meanwhile, the Longhorns registered a record of 1-6 in games where Roschon got fewer than seven rushing attempts.

Part of the reason for that discrepancy is the fact that it was easier for Roschon to get ample touches in place of Bijan against some weaker opponents in the schedule such as the Rice Owls. But Rice was only one of two opponents last season that Texas was able to thoroughly dominate, along with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

That makes it even more pertinent that Texas get Roschon ample touches this coming season.

Roschon’s complex understanding and effectiveness of blocking schemes, and route-running concepts, along with possessing the toughness to pick up those difficult yards after initial contact make him a very versatile and valuable back in this offense. Texas needs to consistently keep him involved this fall, even if that means having more two-back sets out of the backfield compared to last season.

Moreover, there is also one running back that Sark has coached up in a previous stop as a college football bench boss that he could draw some similarities from in terms of how Roschon could be utilized more often. And that is the former Washington Huskies star running back Bishop Sankey.

During his time as the Washington head coach in the early 2010s, Sark’s best running back was clearly Sankey. The 5-foot-10 and 205-pound back was a stud during his three seasons in Seattle, registering more than 4,000 total yards from scrimmage, 5.5 yards per carry, and 38 total touchdowns.

Sankey was also extremely scheme versatile for the Huskies, commonly getting involved in the receiving game and possessing a good understanding of blocking schemes. That is similar to how Texas can utilize the skill set of Roschon.

How Steve Sarkisian and Texas football can utilize Roschon Johnson in 2022 like Bishop Sankey

Now, I do want to mention that Sankey was clearly the top back for the Huskies in 2012 and 2013. While I do believe that there are similarities in how Sark utilized Sankey in the Washington offense in connection with how he involves Roschon this coming season, there are limitations since Bijan is clearly the top back in this offense.

I wanted to mention that before getting into the first comparison between Sankey and Roschon here since Sankey’s frequent usage as a tone-setter in the ground game and a receiver out of the backfield will be more pertinent to Bijan than Johnson. But the fact that the 6-foot-1 and 220-pound Roschon has a similar scheme versatility and deep understanding of blocking schemes means that he can still pose a threat to opposing defenses when he’s in the backfield.

Opposing defenses had to respect the threat that Sankey posed in the ground game and receiving game during his time at Washington. If defenses tried to load the box and stop Sankey from doing too much damage on the ground, he could pick up yards in chunks on wheel routes and screens out of the backfield. Sankey averaged around nine yards per catch on more than 60 receptions during his final two seasons at Washington.

Despite only hauling in roughly 10 receptions per year in the last two seasons, Roschon has good enough hands and understanding of route concepts to pose a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. He proved that during his true freshman campaign when he registered 23 catches for nearly 160 receiving yards and one touchdown catch.

Sankey also was a back with a sneaky amount of power that possessed excellent field vision and a very quick jump cut that could cause the initial tacklers to miss often. That field vision and quick jump cut was a pretty lethal combination on inside zone runs, which is a staple in Sark’s offense, even as it has evolved over time.

Roschon is best known for his ability to hit the hole on inside zone run plays, especially in the Sark offense. But the lack of touches and poor offensive line play from Texas last season during the Big 12 slate really limited what we saw from Roschon in this offense.

If the offensive line play does improve this fall, and the offense has more balance compared to last season, that should change. An offense with more balance and a better offensive line would dramatically increase the effectiveness that Roschon can have in this offense, starting with the inside zone run schemes.

One more thing we can hope that Sark learns from how he utilized Sankey at Washington compared to Roschon at Texas in 2022 is the increase in involvement year over year. Getting Sankey the ball as much as possible was a major key to success during Sark’s time at Washington.

In his final two seasons at Washington, Sankey averaged around 23 rushing attempts per game and 4.1 yards per carry in losses. Meanwhile, he averaged around 27 rushing attempts per game and 5.9 yards per carry in wins during his last two years in Seattle.

It was clear that when the offense opened up for Sankey and he was steadily involved throughout games, Washington succeeded more often than not. Yet, when Sankey was limited in his touches and his versatility wasn’t taken advantage of at Washington, the results usually didn’t go in their favor.

To more of a limited degree, you could say the same for Roschon’s involvement at Texas last season. When Sark got Roschon involved in ways that played well to his versatility, Texas usually benefitted more often than not.

In conclusion, Sark should be able to learn from his increased usage of Sankey with the Huskies and follow a similar trendline by upping the usage of Roschon with the Longhorns this fall. Roschon averaged eight carries per game last season. But that was largely skewed by the 31 carries he had in the regular season finale against Kansas State.

Texas should get Roschon around 10-12 touches per game, or at least get him more snaps in the offense as a blocker or receiver. Sark needs to take advantage of his willingness to get down and dirty and his special versatility.

All in all, Sark is an offensive mind that has constantly evolved over the years to try and tailor his run-first attacking RPO to the personnel he has in the fold. And given how Texas’ best position room this year likely sits at running back, that should be the first focus of how Sark tailors his offensive scheme this season.

Get other talented and versatile (to varying degrees) running backs involved more often such as sophomore Jonathon Brooks, Keilan, and namely Roschon this fall in different ways. But Roschon is the main back that needs to be involved more often this fall to help this entire team find more success in the win column.

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Roschon and the Longhorns finished up last season with a record of 5-7 (3-6 Big 12), missing out on bowl season for the first time since 2016. Texas is set to open up the 2022 regular season at home on Sep. 3 against Louisiana-Monroe.