Over JK Dobbins’ first 100 carries at Ohio State, no Buckeye had ever been as productive.
Those first 100 rush attempts brought 775 yards rushing, which was 87 yards more than the next closest Buckeye in school history.
Dobbins rushed for a freshman record 1,403 yards for Ohio State in 2017, averaging a Big Ten-best 7.23 yards per carry.
His sophomore season, however, was markedly different.
With 36 more attempts, Dobbins rushed for 350 fewer yards, averaging an underwhelming 4.58 yards per carry.
He was still the first Ohio State running back to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing in his first two seasons, but those two seasons were nearly polar opposites.
In 2017, Dobbins led the Big Ten with 16 rushes of at least 20 yards. Last year, he had just four such rushes. He was second in 2017 with 10 rushes of 30 yards and third with four 50-yard carries. In 2018, however, he had just one carry of 30 yards and nothing reaching 50 yards.
Eight quarterbacks in the Big Ten had as many 40-yard rushes as Dobbins (1) last year.
The reasons for Dobbins’ struggles have been examined in the past. Blame has been put on the offensive line, a pass-heavy offense, the lack of a quarterback run threat, the series-by-series rotation of tailbacks, but Dobbins points the finger at himself.
He was trying to make the most of his limited opportunities and was pressing.
“When you’re looking for the home runs, you miss the home runs I guess you could say,” Dobbins said back in the spring. “You gotta let the game come to you and I wasn’t letting the game come to me. I wasn’t being patient, I was trying to force stuff.”
Whenever he spoke with the media this past spring, last year would come up and he would be asked what he was doing to prevent something like that from happening again. He answered every question, explaining what went right and what went wrong.
At one point, he was asked if he was tired of talking about last year.
In typical Dobbins fashion, he smiled and brushed it off.
“I mean… I’m just here to help y’all do y’all’s jobs,” he said.
And speaking of jobs, it’s not just Dobbins’ job to make the running game happen. Many others are involved as well, which is why when offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson looks back on last year, he doesn’t put it all on Dobbins.
“I don’t know if he struggled as much as opposed to we could just do a better job of calling it up and putting him in good places and getting the blocking a little better,” Wilson said.
“To me, running is a group effort, and our group was good, just not as good as it needs to be. Hopefully it will be better. He is having a great offseason. And I will say, last offseason coming up he had a couple minor nick-ups with a back or a hamstring where he was limited in some of his offseason training. He’s had a great offseason run.”
Healthy and hungry, JK Dobbins is determined not to go through another season like last year. Not because he doesn’t want to deal with the media’s questions again, but because his team needs him to be the guy he was in his first 100 carries.
With a new head coach, new quarterback, four new starters on the offensive line, and three senior captain receivers gone, the workhorse running back needs to be there to carry his team while everyone gets acclimated.
This is something that head coach Ryan Day and position coach Tony Alford have explained to him throughout the offseason.
“He’s one of the guys that has to play good,” Day said. “You just hit a major pressure point right there. I mean, he has to play good for us, especially in the first six games of the year.
“And so that’s been a challenge for him. Tony’s challenged him, I’ve challenged him, Kevin Wilson’s challenged him, Mickey Marotti’s challenged him. He’s got to have a good year for us. And so I love JK, I believe in him, and I think he’s going to have a great year.”