(Nick)Name That Bulldog Back

For now he is correctly referred to by either title: the older one of ‘Bowling Ball’ and, beginning this season, by ‘Touchdown’. Josh Robinson will answer to both. Or most anything else for that 2014 matter. “Whatever fans want to call me!”

What everyone who comes into contact with Robinson—well, other than the folk wearing different uniforms who come away feeling the results—calls this Dog is fun. Fun to watch when he’s hauling a football, fun to hear when talking to fellow students and fans, just plain good fun.

“I just have to have my own personality, my own swag to bring to the team. I mean that motivates the other boys to do their job and execute better.”

There aren’t many running backs doing their job better these days than Mississippi State’s man. Through four games Robinson stands third among SEC rushers at 121.2 yards-per, and his average pickup of 7.8 yards each tote is second-best. And even this needs perspective: with a quarterback who is 6th in SEC rushing at the same time, a regular rotation on the backfield, and an productive passing game, Robinson isn’t getting the same number of per-game touches as others.

So the best of Robinson…or @Bowling34ball to use his twitter tag, or TD, or J-Rob, and whatever else will surely be assigned before the junior season is done. Anyway, his best should be in store much the same as this season is the product of three seasons’ preparation. And patience, too, which came tougher for this ebullient Bulldog.

“Even when times get hard you just have to make the best out of what God has given you,” he said.

Which is quite the solemn moment, and thus quickly changed. That’s actually a fine reflection of how Robinson can handle himself within the context of a club and program. One moment he’s the class clown, the next he’s utterly intense on receiving the handoff and timing his steps into line-of-scrimmage traffic. This is one reason why Coach Dan Mullen now calls Robinson a runner who can be counted on full-time.

Well, almost full-time since as Mullen said a week ago there are times Robinson goes “off the reservation” in something or other. Such as social media where one never knows what will appear and State staff often wish it were nothing at all. It was neither coincidence nor surprise that the Louisiana native was put in ‘twitter jail’ for the LSU week, for which the Tigers ought be grateful. Robinson might’ve provided enough material to paper the whole locker room wall.

And when he exited Tiger Stadium a winner? “Free J-Rob!” he announced to an adoring throng he called his ‘family’. Which at observation included every ethnicity, age, gender available, but was no less metaphorically true for it.

So when his coaches suggest Robinson is maturing, they say it with a sack of Morton’s finest. The young man isn’t bothered. “Ahh, it’s just a process. You just have to go through the system and you’ll find it. The man will come out of you. Once that sun hits you you’ve just got to grow and put childish ways behind me.”

Come Saturday the goal is putting defenders behind him, much as Robinson did gaining 197 yards on just 16 rushes at LSU with a 66-yarder which--frustratingly for him—stopped shy of the goal line. It reminded of Robinson’s prior big-break, when he cracked the line in the first quarter against Texas A&M last season and went 51 yards for his first SEC-game touchdown. He added another in the Egg Bowl.

Now the regular starter, Robinson has four touchdowns on the 2014 tally. This inspires his second nom de guerre of ‘Touchdown’ which actually was the high school nickname he claims. As well as, when he wore #13, the jersey he changed to for this junior season. Another number is on Robinson’s mind at the moment: one.

As in, the league’s leading rusher. Those are mighty big names ahead, he agrees. “But I’m trying to get my name to the top of that list. I don’t care who it is, I’m trying to get to the top.”

This may be a good week to make such a bid, though the Aggie ground defense is not nearly so porous as a year ago Robinson says. The key for his productivity is, naturally, quarterback Dak Prescott’s honesty-insuring presence making sure the ‘box’ isn’t stacked only on Robinson. Plus an improved air attack ought to have things just a bit looser and make those big runs possible, right?

Maybe. “I’ve got to put on, got to put on. But you’ll have to see Saturday, I can’t give you no informationnnnn…” Robinson trails away, wagging a cautionary finger and beaming at the shared joke. “Saturday you can see all the information you need.”

There truly is a serious side to Robinson, even if it is slathered-over with pure personality. Fans take it for granted about ‘waiting one’s turn’ in a college system, but for all the fun and fuss there’s pride inside Robinson. Being second or even third in the pecking order wasn’t easy, not when one is used to being top dog and the folk back home are asking why it isn’t so. And yes, that bubbling energy has risks when it rubs the wrong way. Especially on coaches.

Keeping on track has required help from inside, outside, even above at times, Robinson relates. “I mean I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have faith. If I weren’t for God I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.”

A good one, too, as his #12-ranked team tunes up for a mid-season showdown with #6 Texas A&M. Robinson is reminded of last year’s meeting not so much for his own big run—well, OK, he is for that. “That’s when I wanted to change my number!” Anyway, the larger point is how in the aftermath of their 51-41 shootout in College Station every Bulldog came out oddly encourage.

And newly-confident. “At the end of that game we gave it all, left everything on the field. We came together at halftime and said give relentless effort, that’s when I felt the vibe of our team.” That vibe has carried-over into the current season and only grown with each win. Especially the most recent success which left Robinson almost electrified for the whole bye-week.

As a young instructor found out the hard way. “Let me tell you a story, me and Dak had a basketball class, right? I walk in and teach a little bit. I just said if we beat LSU you promised us, and I think this would be the perfect day!” The world can only hope video evidence somehow surfaces of this special seminar.

Fortunately for all involved, except maybe the Aggies, that open date did let Robinson vent enough emotions to concentrate on this key contest. Which should be automatic anyway, he figures.

“Games like this I just can focus on my team. I can’t focus on nobody else, I can focus on their defense. But I’ve got to make sure my guys are on-point and take care of what they want to do.” Then, if he and team can produce another top-ten triumph, maybe Robinson will entertain suggestions for the next nickname.

“I’ve got to keep grinding and maybe after this game it will change. But right now it’s still J-Rob, still got a smile on my face, trying to get this degree. And still trying to bring other people up.”

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