After two years at Ohio State, J.K. Dobbins is a name that doesn’t quite have the same ring as legendary Buckeye running backs like Archie Griffin, Eddie George or Ezekiel Elliott.
If Dobbins replicates his freshman rushing total of 1,403 yards this season though, those are the names he’ll join atop Ohio State’s career rushing list, surpassing George for No. 3 all-time.
In order to do that, Dobbins said he’ll have to rebound from a sophomore season he deems more than a disappointment.
“It was a failure,” Dobbins said. “Last year was a failure to me.”
The 2018 season saw Dobbins lead the Buckeyes with both 1,053 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, but it was a significant dip compared to his production as a true freshman.
Splitting carries with Mike Weber, Dobbins was able to rush for 350 more yards in his first season than his second, despite receiving 35 more carries in 2018. Dobbins’ yards per carry shrank from 7.6 to 4.6.
With Weber now in the NFL and a first-year quarterback taking the reins of the Ohio State offense, head coach Ryan Day said at Big Ten Media Days that he will lean on Dobbins in the opening six games before the Buckeyes’ first bye week.
The Ohio State coaching staff challenged Dobbins to improve now that he is the lone feature back, and Day said Friday that it appears he is answering the bell.
“It seems to me like he’s very serious right now,” Day said. “I believe he lost 4 percent body fat, which is significant when you look at him — there’s not a lot of body fat on him. That means he really worked hard this summer. But it’s yet to be seen.”
Dobbins said he began a diet at the end of the 2018 season in order to help him regain his freshman form, which he said he already feels the benefits from after the first fall practice.
Even though Dobbins said he is prepared for more carries than he’s had in the past two seasons, he added that the extra workload could mean he won’t be as fresh at the end of the year.
Despite not having a clear-cut second option at running back, Day said someone else will have to emerge from the room in order to allow Dobbins a break.
“It doesn’t matter, they don’t have a choice,” Day said. “Someone’s gonna have to step up. We’re not just going to put J.K. out there like that, so one of those guys has to step up.”
Day called out redshirt freshman running back Master Teague and junior running back Demario McCall by name Friday, but the pair combined for just 156 yards and 1 touchdown on 25 rushing attempts in 2018.
Outside of Teague and McCall, Day may turn to a pair of freshmen in Steele Chambers and Marcus Crowley who were both four-star prospects out of high school.
Whoever comes forward as the standout will be backing up a player climbing to the top of the record books, if Dobbins can have another breakout year. While he didn’t place a specific number on how many yards he would consider a success in 2019, he said he can run for “way more” than the 1,053 he put up a season ago.
Day said Friday that Ohio State team is united in a sense of having something to prove, and even though Dobbins is one of the most dependable returning stars for the Buckeyes, he is no different.
“I just feel like I’m the best running back in the nation and I want to prove that,” Dobbins said. “And I didn’t last year. And I have a chip on my shoulder because I know I can do better.”