Jeffrey Okudah knows from experience that playing Shawn Robinson can be a tough test for a football team’s defense.
Okudah and Robinson previously played one another in 2016, when Okudah was a senior at South Grand Prairie High School and Robinson was a senior at DeSoto High School. Robinson’s Eagles got the best of Okudah’s Warriors that day, 37-31, as Robinson threw for 197 yards and a touchdown while running for 108 yards and another touchdown.
Two years later, though, with Okudah now playing cornerback for Ohio State and Robinson now the starting quarterback for TCU, Okudah will have a chance to turn the tables when his Buckeyes play Robinson’s Horned Frogs at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas – just a short drive from where each of them grew up – on Saturday night.
Preparing for Robinson, and his ability to make plays with both his arm and his feet, has been a focal point for Ohio State’s defense all week. He’s the first true running threat from the quarterback position that the Buckeyes have faced all year, adding a new challenge for Ohio State’s defense to deal with.
“It changes all the math,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said earlier this week. “When the quarterback carries the ball, and can do it well, then the defensive math changes. And what I've noticed … he scrambles, but he scrambles first to throw it down the field. Then, when he decides to go, he’s a really good runner. Very good runner. But it's not where he just tucks it to run right away. So we're going to have to hold coverage when he does start to move out of the pocket, and then be ready once he crosses the line of scrimmage to come up and try to get him down, which is easier said than done. He's a 230-pound man who runs very well.”
While Robinson has been inconsistent in his first two starts this season as a passer, his ability to make plays as a runner has been evident. He’s already rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns, including an 18-yard touchdown last Friday against SMU, on just 10 carries in the Horned Frogs’ first two games.
The four-star recruit’s running ability was also certainly evident in high school – when he ran for 4,452 yards and 53 touchdowns, along with throwing for 7,646 yards and 75 touchdowns, over three seasons – and no one knows that better than Okudah, who compared his running ability to that of former Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
“I think he’s a really elusive runner,” Okudah said. “If you watch his high school tape, you see spin moves, you see jukes in there. It’s kind of like maybe even you could say, a stockier Lamar Jackson kind of player.”
Thanks to Ohio State backup quarterback Tate Martell – who showed his own elusive running ability by running for 95 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown, this past Saturday against Rutgers – the Buckeyes defense had plenty of experience going up against a quarterback who can make plays with his feet in their preparation for the season. Where Okudah believes Robinson presents a different challenge, though, is that he is bigger than Martell – which means defenders need to be prepared not only for Robinson’s ability to make people miss, but also to run through contact.
“Him and Tate are both guys that can run the ball, but Shawn kind of has a more sturdy frame,” Okudah said. “So when you go against Shawn, he has the option to put his shoulder down and try to run you over, as opposed to trying to shake you and go out of bounds.”
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, Robinson has similar measurables to former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was also a big running threat to the Buckeyes, running for 3,263 yards in his Ohio State career. Okudah says Robinson’s elusiveness, though, will also present a different challenge than going up against Barrett in practice.
“J.T. wasn’t as elusive as Shawn was in the open field,” Okudah said. “He had a running element, but it wasn’t just that elusive. But it still was a threat. So I mean, J.T. kind of gives you that feel, but I wouldn’t compare it.”
Okudah isn’t Ohio State’s only defender who knows Robinson well. Fellow true sophomore Baron Browning, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, also knows Robinson dating back to high school and expects him to put the Buckeyes to the test on Saturday.
“We can’t sleep on him,” said Browning, who started Ohio State’s first two games this season at middle lienbacker. “Probably one of the better running quarterbacks that we’re going to see, maybe this season, so we just got to keep our eyes on him at all times. We can’t forget about him.”
Okudah is looking forward to the opportunity to play Robinson again, though, because he considers Robinson to be a close friend – which means the two will certainly have something to say to each other when they reunite in Dallas this weekend.
“I’m really excited to have a chance to talk some noise to him on the field,” Okudah said. “We’re going to have a little friendly trash talk during the game, just because we know each other.”
Robinson photo: Tim Heitman – USA TODAY Sports
Okudah photo: Joe Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports