SAN ANTONIO — Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers turned to tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders on Tuesday and smirked.
The players were responding to a comment by offensive coordinator Kyle Flood at an Alamo Bowl press conference. Flood had just praised a Longhorn by the name of Jordan Brooks. That was a slip of the tongue, though. The Texas running back who Flood was referencing is named Jonathon.
On Thursday night, Jonathon Brooks will get his chance to make sure that everyone, assistant coaches included, remembers the name. With Texas' top two rushers — Doak Walker Award winner Bijan Robinson as well as Roschon Johnson — opting out of the bowl game, Brooks, Keilan Robinson and Jaydon Blue should all see an increased workload against Washington at the Alamodome.
"I think that's one of the more talented rooms in our building, is that running back room," Flood said. "I'm excited to watch them in this bowl game. They've had a really, really good bowl prep, and they're all talented runners. The depth in that room that we've talked about all year, now it's got to show up for us."
This season, Robinson rushed for 1,580 yards and became Texas' fourth Doak Walker winner. Johnson averaged just under six yards per carry and scored six times. The 2,134 rushing yards that Robinson and Johnson combined for is second to only one Texas tandem's effort: the 2,233 yards produced by Earl Campbell and Ham Jones in 1977.
Without Robinson and Johnson, Texas must replace 89% of its top-40 rushing attack. Those two also accounted for nearly 78% of Texas' rushing attempts.
So, as they say, next man up.
Texas fans are already familiar with the work of Keilan Robinson. A junior who previously played for Sarkisian at Alabama, Robinson has had a role in the offense this year. He's averaging 12.8 yards over his 14 catches and 3.5 yards over his 17 carries.
Then there's Blue. A four-star recruit in the 2022 recruiting cycle, the freshman has just 15 touches so far. But on Wednesday, Sarkisian described him as "a guy that's probably matured as much or more than any of our true freshmen from spring ball until now."
Brooks, however, may be the most intriguing riser on the depth chart.
The redshirt freshman has rushed for 179 yards on 24 carries this season. The 6-foot, 202-pounder did the bulk of his damage in the fourth quarter of a Nov. 19 blowout win over Kansas. Brooks rushed for two touchdowns in that 55-14 win, including one from 70 yards.
Brooks was a four-star member of Texas' 2021 class. He ran for 3,530 yards and 62 touchdowns as a senior at Hallettsville High. He had a 500-yard, nine-touchdown performance in one playoff game during the Brahmas' run to the Class 3A Division I championship game.
Over his first two seasons, Brooks has recorded 45 carries and scored five times. Ewers also said Brooks has impressed his teammates with how he works during the week.
"I think everybody kind of feeds off the way he practices," Ewers said. "He's a hard practicer. Gives a lot of effort, and I think he has some of the best vision I've seen from a running back. It's easy for him to find those holes and kind of sneak through. He's good in the passing game as well. He doesn't drop a whole lot of passes, which is a quarterback's best friend."
Sarkisian said Wednesday that Keilan Robinson, Blue and Brooks all will play against Washington. Surrendering 127.0 yards per game, the Huskies are No. 35 nationally in rushing defense and have allowed three 100-yard rushers over their last four games.
Sarkisian was later asked if Brooks needs to prove himself Thursday. After all, the Alamo Bowl will be a significant showcase for Texas' remaining running backs, who will be joined by incoming five-star signee Cedric Baxter in next year's backfield.
"The biggest thing for us is for him just to go out and be him, not try to do more than what he's already shown us," Sarkisian said. "He's more than capable to be a very good football player for us. Now it's just about being in the moment and just being him and not trying to do more."
After Brooks and Blue both played in the Kansas game, Johnson said it was good to "give the people a glimpse of what the future holds for them." At last week's press conference to announce his decision to enter the NFL draft, Bijan Robinson also expressed his optimism about the new-look rushing attack at Texas.
"Those guys right there are talented dudes. There's not going to be really a drop-off," Robinson said. "I can't wait to see them in the bowl game. I think they're going to rip and play amazing."
8 p.m. Thursday, Alamodome, San Antonio, ESPN, 104.9, 105.3 (Spanish), 99.3, 98.5