Aidan Robbins saw the opportunity to run the football at BYU as the break he had been waiting for and he jumped at the chance. The UNLV transfer brought his big 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame to Provo fresh off a 1,000-yard rushing season and nine touchdowns.

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Iowa State (4-2, 5-4)
at BYU (2-4, 5-4)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MST
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Robbins got a break all right, but not the one he or the BYU offense could have imagined. At some point during a physical fall camp, he took a hit to his side. Robbins shook it off and played through the pain. He figured it was just a typical football wound.

When it came time to make a first impression in the season opener against Sam Houston, he knew something was wrong. Robbins averaged a meager 3.3 yards per carry on seven attempts. The following week against Southern Utah was worse and by Robbins’ third carry of the game, he was done.

“My back locked up. I thought maybe it was a muscle spasm, but I couldn’t breathe,” Robbins said. “The pain wasn’t going away. I tried to practice through it, but I kept reaggravating it. There was a time when I couldn’t bend over and tie my shoes. It was that bad.”

X-rays revealed Robbins had a broken rib. A running back with a broken rib is like a bird with a broken wing — neither goes anywhere. As a result, BYU’s ground game stalled, which also had a negative impact on the passing attack.

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Robbins, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, missed the next four games before returning in the second half against Texas Tech.

“I just remember seeing a little bit of grass and when I exploded through the line and broke a couple of tackles, that’s when I thought, ‘OK, I’m starting to feel like myself again,” he said. “Keep feeding me the rock. Let’s do this thing.”

Late in the game, on third-and-13, Robbins was handed the ball, and he ran for the first down while carrying Red Raider defenders on his back. That was the running back head coach Kalani Sitake was so happy to get and the one Robbins had wanted so badly to be.

Isn’t it interesting how important a rib can be.

“I just remember seeing a little bit of grass and when I exploded through the line and broke a couple of tackles, that’s when I thought, ‘OK, I’m starting to feel like myself again. Keep feeding me the rock. Let’s do this thing.” — BYU running back Aidan Robbins

Finally healthy, Robbins increased his role with 43 rushes over the last three games, including his first touchdown last week at West Virginia. The landscape he is trying to tame is very different from the one Robbins envisioned prior to his broken rib. BYU is among the worst rushing teams in the country, averaging a meager 79.7 yards per game.

“We try to erase the outside noise. We know what everyone is saying,” he said. “We are just focused on what’s going on in this facility. We go out to practice to figure out how we can be better, whether that’s the run game, the pass game, or our overall offensive execution.”

Time is running short. The Cougars (5-4, 2-4) have three games remaining and need one more win to become bowl eligible. Robbins, a time-tested downhill runner, wants the ball Saturday against Iowa State (8:15 p.m., ESPN) still hoping for a second chance to make his first impression.

“I just want the fans to know that I’m a leader on and off the field,” he said. “I will give my all to Cougar Nation. I just want you all to stick by me.”

BYU running back Aidan Robbins breaks free from Texas Tech linebacker Ben Roberts during game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Provo, Utah. Back healthy, the UNLV transfer wants BYU coaches to keep “feeding him the rock.” | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

You can watch Dave McCann’s interview with Aidan Robbins on BYUtv’s “Gameday” program at 6 p.m. on Saturday on BYUtv, including how Robbins thinks new quarterback Jake Retzlaff can impact BYU’s ground attack.