Walking out of the locker room after Ohio State’s 52-51 overtime win against Maryland on Nov. 17, J.K. Dobbins was not sore. He was just tired.
But the sophomore running back was visibly pleased, knowing he made a significant impact, an impact similar to the one he had made in the first game of his collegiate career.
More than doubling his normal carry count during the 2018 season, he recorded a career-high 37 touches for 203 yards, scoring his eighth touchdown of the season on a one-yard rush late in the second quarter.
With a brimming confidence normally carried by a featured back, Dobbins said after his performance he knew how to carry a load. He wanted the Ohio State offense to continue to rely on his success.
“When you can play more than one drive at a time, you can get in a groove,” Dobbins said. “I’m an energetic guy, so whenever I get in a groove, I get pretty energetic.”
For the remainder of the season, Dobbins did not have the opportunity to get into that groove. The sophomore back recorded 114 yards on 29 carries in the next two games combined, scoring his ninth touchdown of the season on a two-yard rush in the first quarter against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game.
The carries with Weber became proportionate again, with the redshirt junior recording 30 carries and 147 yards with a touchdown in the next two games, returning to the “A1 and A2” offensive approach offensive coordinator Ryan Day set at the beginning of the season.
“I am not a selfish person. I am a team player first,” Dobbins said. “Whatever the team needs to do to win a game, that’s what we’re going to do. If it’s him getting 30 carries and I get five, and if we win, I’m fine with it.”
The split carries helped Weber this season, saying that playing in the Big Ten conference — what he considers as a rough conference with a lot of physicality — is something he felt both he and Dobbins got used to.
But it is still not an approach that gives an opportunity for one player to shine.
“I know my potential and I still haven’t reached it yet,” Weber said.
Weber announced Sunday he will forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the 2019 NFL Draft, leaving that potential to be possibly achieved for a professional team.
But for Dobbins, that potential is achievable, becoming the featured back for the Ohio State offense in what many consider to be a “contract year” for the upcoming junior, who will have a chance to enter the draft after the 2019 season.
Without knowing whether Weber would return, Dobbins said he was excited about possibly getting the nod as the back the Buckeyes will depend on.
“It was great having him here,” Dobbins said. “If I am the only guy next year, then I’ll be excited for that.”
But it will be an experience that Dobbins has not had in his college career.
Ever since the departure of Ezekiel Elliott after the 2015 season, Weber has always been a major part of Ohio State’s plan for the running game, whether that was him as the featured back during the 2016 season or even after the emergence of Dobbins against Indiana in 2017.
Despite two consecutive seasons as a 1,000-yard back, recording 16 touchdowns in two seasons with Ohio State, Dobbins has never been considered the featured back at Ohio State.
After the Rose Bowl, the running back room will be Dobbins’. And the expectations remain high, if not higher with the departure of Weber.
No Ohio State running back has ever recorded a 2,000-yard season, with Eddie George recording 1,927 yards in 1995. The talk surrounding Dobbins, whose career high is 1,403, is that with the offense that has been run, with him as the featured back, 2,000 yards seems feasible.
When asked if he thinks that is achievable, Dobbins smiled and laughed with that same brimming confidence he had after the Maryland game, raising his arms in a full shrug, reminiscent of former Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa.
“We’ll see about that,” Dobbins said.