COLUMBUS — One of junior running back J.K. Dobbins’ goals this season was to get back to his freshman form. Last season Dobbins averaged 4.6 yards per carry, which was well under his 7.2 yards per carry as a true freshman.
In the season opener last weekend, Dobbins averaged just 4.3 yards per rush and totaled 91 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts. His performance was okay, but raised questions about just how close to his previous stellar form he could actually get.
On Saturday against Cincinnati, however, Dobbins seemingly answered any questions by rushing for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. And he didn’t even carry the ball in the second half.
Dobbins did come back into the game when his blocking was required, but it was junior Demario McCall and redshirt freshman Master Teague III who split the majority of the carries for the rest of the game.
His 141 first-half yards were the most for one half in his career as a Buckeye. His performance on Saturday also moved him up to 15th place in career rushing yards in Ohio State history.
“I was a little more focused on me than everything else and I think that helped a lot,” Dobbins said of his performance against Cincinnati.
Head coach Ryan Day credits the guys around Dobbins — including assistant coaches Kevin Wilson and Greg Studrawa — and the work they did throughout the week for his improvements on Saturday.
“I think J.K. was irritated all week,” Day said. “Just the same kind of thing — nothing fit right last week, just didn’t feel right. It was one of those strange opening games but we worked hard this week. Stud and the O line did a great job. And J.K., when he got to the second level he was rolling today and I thought it was great getting J.K. going and the O line did an unbelievable job. Tribute to Kevin Wilson and Stud and all the guys who worked on that this week.”
Sophomore center Josh Myers said that helping Dobbins was an emphasis in practice this past week.
“I was so happy for him,” Myers said. “That was something I know our offensive line really wanted for him. Really wanted for him. He had such a good freshman season and then he split some time with Mike [Weber] last season and I know he was a little disappointed in last season, even though he had a great season and had over 1,000 rushing yards. So, one thing I think we all really wanted to do for him was establish a really good rushing performance.”
Not only did Dobbins’ average per carry improve on Saturday, but he also flashed his old big-play ways and had some breakaway plays that were absent in the season opener, as well as last season.
Dobbins’ second touchdown came on a 60-yard run, which was the second longest of his career, only behind a 77-yarder against Wisconsin his freshman year. His longest rush last year was 42 yards against Nebraska. It was the only rush of 30 or more yards that he had on the season.
Another Dobbins moment came when he was hit in the backfield and wrapped up, but he ripped himself away and gained eight yards on the play. When compared to the long runs, Dobbins prefers the plays where he fights for the extra yards.
“I honestly think that type of run is better for me,” Dobbins said. “So I can show that I can do other things than run fast. You know I can make people miss.”
Dobbins also came into the game in the third quarter and threw a good block that contributed to sophomore quarterback Justin Fields’ touchdown run. Teague was brought off of the field and Dobbins came in to block.
“It was amazing, I honestly like blocking, doing a great block better than a touchdown run,” Dobbins said. “It’s a great feeling. It gives you a lot of energy I feel like.”
He wasn’t happy with his performance as a whole, but there is no doubt that he did gain confidence from it. If he can carry that confidence as well as he carried the football on Saturday, Dobbins should be in line for exactly the kind of season he was looking for this year.