In the first two weeks of the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes defense progressed. After giving up 31 points to Oregon State, the vaunted Buckeye line held Rutgers to just three points. In both games, opposing backup QBs had to be brought into the game after the starters were knocked out by the Buckeye pass rush. Before the injuries, each starter faced some serious pressure at the line of scrimmage, notably from the duo of Nick Bosa and Chase Young.
For the TCU Horned Frogs, protecting the QB isn’t enough against OSU. Their signal-caller, sophomore Shawn Robinson, will need to successfully wear many hats on Saturday night if he wants to lead his team to an upset win at AT&T Stadium in front of a national television audience.
Since coming to the Fort Worth program last season, Robinson has hit the ground running, figuratively and literally. The Gatorade Texas Player of the Year in 2016 arrived to Gary Patterson’s team as the No. 2 dual-threat QB in Texas and seventh in the nation, according to 247sports. When then-starting QB Kenny Hill was sidelined with a concussion last season against Texas Tech, Robinson made his first career start. A true freshman at the time, he secured a 24-3 win against the Red Raiders, and became the first freshman to start at QB for the Frogs during the Patterson era.
Now the full-time starting QB, Robinson walked into the season with some real game experience, just as Dwayne Haskins did for Ohio State after filling in for J.T. Barrett during the Michigan game in 2017; not to mention quite a bit of mop-up duty. The difference is that Haskins has lit up both opposing defenses he’s faced this season, while Robinson is coming off a Week 2 passing slump—largely do to adverse weather.
In a rain soaked Friday night game in Dallas versus SMU, Robinson was held to 146 yards and a touchdown, but threw an interception in the third quarter deep in Mustang territory. The interception may seem inconsequential now (the final score was 42-12), but at the time of the pick, the game was 14-12 in favor of TCU. Also, that was the first picked off pass in 80 attempts for Robinson, the longest streak ever in the Patterson era for a QB starting his career. Against Ohio State, an interception in a close game has the very real potential to be a, literal, game changer. The Buckeyes have playmakers in every unit, so expect them to be amped up across the board if they can get a possession back via turnover.
On the ground, Robinson is leading the team with 112 yards, averaging 11.2 yards per carry. It should be noted, though, that he’s only had 10 carries on the season. This weekend, he’s going to need to show off his wheels; Ohio State’s defensive frontline is going to bust through at some point, forcing Robinson to rush for yardage.
The main goal for Robinson will be to move the sticks whether by air or ground. Getting running back Darius Anderson the rock will help, but OSU’s defense is going to be stingy. Relying on Anderson as the sole rusher will be a good way for TCU to limit its rushing attack, which will then further handcuff the passing attack.
Ohio State hasn’t faced a true scrambling threat this season (the quarterbacks OSU has faced this season have run out of a necessity for their life, knowing full well that Bosa and Young were in pursuit). With Robinson as the current leader in passing and rushing—albeit by a slim margin—he holds the keys to how TCU operates this weekend.
If he can turn plays in which a less athletic quarterback would be dead to rights into first downs, and if he can gain some green on designed runs, then TCU can incorporate Anderson and the other RBs into the rushing equation.
The passing game also falls into the hands of Robinson, who will need to find his targets, specifically Jaelan Austin or KaVontae Turpin in a hurry. He’s not going to be able to take his time searching for receivers. In fact, he may be looking for Austin, Turpin or whomever while on the run.
Robinson has a tough job ahead of him on Saturday night. He’s 3-0 as the starter at TCU, and hasn’t lost a game as starting QB at any level since 2015. However, I think it’s safe to say that he hasn’t faced a defense like this Ohio State team yet.
His biggest off-field strength might actually be having Patterson as his coach. Patterson is one of the more senior coaches on the circuit, and has TCU playing their best on the biggest of stages. If Patterson is still harboring any negative feelings for when Ohio State leapfrogged his team— and Baylor— into the 2014 College Football Playoff, this is his best chance to let it all out.