Keilan Robinson, Roschon Johnson an ideal thunder-lightning duo

Roschon Johnson, Texas Football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Roschon Johnson, Texas Football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Texas football clearly has one of the most potent running back rooms in the entire country, highlighted by the trio of star junior Bijan Robinson, senior leader Roschon Johnson, and speedy redshirt junior Keilan Robinson. There’s a good case to be made that Texas has the best running back room in the country, especially with maybe the best player at the position in college football in Bijan.

But the reason why the Longhorns have such impressive depth in the running back room is the duo of Roschon and Keilan, lining up behind Bijan on this depth chart. Texas saw the potency that both Roschon and Keilan can bring to the table for this offense in very different ways last season.

For Keilan, it was leading the Longhorns in yards per carry and breakaway percentage as he proved his explosiveness throughout the 2021 campaign. Meanwhile, Roschon often willed this Texas offense forward, as evidenced by his insane efforts in the regular season finale win over the Kansas State Wildcats on Black Friday.

Keilan is often referenced to as one of the most underutilized players last season for head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns. Despite leading Texas in yards per carry last season, Keilan finished up with the fifth-most touches on this offense. It also felt like there were times last season when Texas didn’t necessarily utilize Keilan in the best way possible.

It became clear from the get-go last season that Keilan was a major home-run threat that could explode at any time. His insane open-field speed allows him to be a constant threat to break off 20+ yard runs. When he’s able to get the ball in the screen game, he can also do similar damage in the passing game.

Let Keilan get to the outside and find space, and opposing defenses will pay.

Keilan went for explosive plays in more than 60 percent of his rushing attempts last season and roughly 58 percent of his total touches. And if you take out the three plays where the ball was dumped off to him in the passing game behind the line of scrimmage on almost nearly-guaranteed negative plays (all by Hudson Card on check-downs), Keilan’s explosive play rate was upped to better than 65 percent in total last season.

Moreover, the sweet spots for Keilan in this offense will essentially be any sweep or run play where he can get to the outside and find room to run or a delayed zone handoff that allows him to utilize his underrated field vision and patience to find a gap and pick up yards in chunks.

I would also encourage Texas to get Keilan involved in the passing game as long as he’s not asked to do too much out of the gates as a receiver. Keilan did have four bad drops last season on fewer than 15 targets in the passing game. Almost all of those drops came while Keilan was trying to look ahead before he was able to reel in the catch.

When Keilan was set and ready for the catch with room to run, that’s where he can be a threat.

That all might sound simple, but that likely will need to be the progression unless Keilan has made major strides with his ability as a receiver this offseason.

Yet, there is just too much explosiveness and potency that Keilan brings to the table in a number of different run schemes, sweeps, and screens, to not get him more touches this fall compared to last season.

And just for good measure, it’s worth noting that Keilan was able to use his speed to make a huge impact in special teams coverage last season.

Texas football has the best thunder-lightning duo you could ask for among backups in Roschon Johnson and Keilan Robinson

Furthermore, the thunder half of this fantastic duo for Texas in the running back room is Roschon. As the Longhorns player that appears to be the vocal leader and leader by example for this team in 2022, Roschon clearly has the respect of the locker room.

But Roschon won this locker room over not just by his leadership and experience, but also by his grit and effort on the field. Roschon is never afraid to get down and dirty in the trenches or do whatever it takes to fight for those extra yards and pick up key first downs.

Don’t let the tough nature of Roschon fool you, though, he’s still got some speed and versatility in his game. Roschon is a former converted dual-threat quarterback, so he is an excellent athlete with great scheme versatility and overall understanding of different phases of this offense.

Roschon is a capable blocker, has good hands, and can even take snaps as a quarterback in a type of wildcat offensive look.

In fact, Roschon’s versatility is something that I think Sark and this staff took for granted at times in Big 12 play last fall. During Texas’ six-game losing streak in Big 12 play last season, Roschon only got 33 rushing attempts. And nearly half of those came in the loss to West Virginia.

Roschon can make an impact all over the place, hence why he should be out on the field in a variety of different packages more often this fall. Let him take some snaps in short-yardage situations more often as the quarterback and get him involved more in the passing game.

In his collegiate career to date, Roschon has more than 40 catches for nearly 300 receiving yards, seven yards after the catch per reception, and two touchdown catches. He also has only two career drops on more than 50 targets as a receiver, more than a dozen missed tackles forced, 17 first downs, and no turnovers when he was targeted in the passing game.

The fact of the matter is that good things tend to happen when Roschon gets the ball as a receiver.

Roschon is also a smash-mouth runner that can pick up yards in chunks, essentially regardless of which lane he picks. He’s averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry running in every gap along the offensive line except off the left tackle.

But he can also do damage once he gets around the corner and can find space on the outside. Roschon has averaged more than seven yards per carry on outside run plays to the left and the right of the offensive line.

The real calling card, though, for Roschon will be the tough running that allows him to pick up those really difficult yards. Roschon has nearly 1,200 career yards after initial contact under his belt on run plays. He also eclipsed 100 missed tackles forced last season on run plays.

Roschon definitely isn’t the explosive home-run threat that Keilan is for the Longhorns, but he doesn’t really need to be. He definitely can break more tackles when running between the tackles and grind out more tough yards after initial contact. And Texas has Keilan to be that big-play threat out of the backfield.

The fact of the matter is that Texas has about the best thunder and lightning duo that you will find among experienced and proven running backs that aren’t even starters for their team in the country. Sark and new running backs coach Tashard Choice couldn’t ask for much more out of their second and third-string running backs this year.

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Keilan and Roschon combined for more than 1,000 total yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns last season. And we definitely haven’t seen this duo reach the ceiling in terms of what they can do in this Sark offense as of yet.