Out with the old and in with the new.
As redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett prepares for his final trip through the Big Ten, freshman running back J.K. Dobbins is set to establish his presence in the conference as the catalyst of Ohio State’s offense for years to come.
And the Ohio State coaching staff couldn’t be more excited about the future of the first-year running back.
“I kind of tempered my emotions with you guys early on because we’ve seen that since spring practice. He’s had a hell of a camp,” Meyer said after the Indiana game. “Not surprised at all [with his performance].”
Dobbins’ career began in an almost storybook fashion. With Ohio State traveling to Bloomington, Indiana, to open up its season against Indiana, Dobbins was assigned the start at the last minute with redshirt sophomore Mike Weber dealing with a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out of the starting lineup.
The game could not have gone much better for the freshman. He set an Ohio State record for most rushing yards by a true freshman in his debut with 181 rushing yards on 29 carries, adding 24 receiving yards on two catches.
“I felt like I was going to do things that I did because I practiced against the best defense in college football every day and then I got a great offensive line,” Dobbins said after the game.
Now just two weeks away from kicking off the remainder of the Big Ten season, Dobbins is one of the only offensive weapons the team can count on in conference play. He has undoubtedly been the most consistent performer for Ohio State’s offense this season as Barrett, the wide receivers, the tight ends and the backup running backs have been shaky in their first two games.
Despite being so young, Dobbins has been hyped up by members of the coaching staff since his arrival in Columbus and expectations have been placed quite high for him.
“This guy has picked it up faster than anybody I’ve ever been around in my 22 years as a true freshman,” running backs coach Tony Alford said on Aug. 18. “He’s picked it up, he understands the offense — the nuances of it — very, very quickly and he plays hard. He goes so hard at everything he does which is part of the culture of this program.”
The coaches have praised all aspects of Dobbins’ game, citing his explosive speed, toughness barreling through the defensive line and ability to catch passes. But what has set Dobbins apart from other young running backs in the past is his ability to block.
“I would like to think that the hardest thing for incoming freshmen running backs is pass protection,” Alford said. “Not only to protect it but where to go and where they fit and all the different protection schemes and understanding fronts and different blitzes.”
So far this season, Dobbins has lived up to the hype. He is second on the team behind Barrett with his 276 all-purpose yards this year and has recorded more rushing yards (253) than the rest of the team combined. He has also accounted for 32 percent of the team’s chunk plays (15-plus yard pass or 10-plus yard rush) to this point, catching an 18-yard wheel route on the second play of his career and rushing seven times for more than 10 yards and gaining 20-plus yards on three occasions.
With one loss already in the standings for Ohio State, the Buckeyes will need Dobbins to live up to the hype in his inaugural campaign if the offense is going to put up the points necessary to reach the College Football Playoff.