J.K. Dobbins didn’t look like J.K. Dobbins early.
Entering the nation’s No. 2 leading rusher, he had just one rush of more than three yards on his first 11 attempts, tallying 28 yards on Northwestern.
But if his first six games have been any evidence, stymying Dobbins is more of a brief state of affairs than a long-term proposition for opposing defenses.
“He’s been doing a great job of leadership. The whole offense has rallied around him, especially the offensive line,” head coach Ryan Day said.
Dobbins finished with 121 rushing yards on 18 carries. It was the arm of sophomore quarterback Justin Fields that helped spring the legs of the Big Ten’s leading rusher Friday, though.
Having already tossed a 20-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave on the opening drive, the Buckeye offense stalled behind a run-heavy play selection until Fields found another groove.
Fields was chased around frequently in the first, spinning and ducking numerous Wildcat sack attempts, and the stifled run game kept him behind the chains early.
A holding call on redshirt freshman offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere, who started for injured junior Thayer Munford, threatened to end a second-straight Ohio State drive before it began. However, Fields connected with redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill on third-and-15 to keep the drive rolling into the second quarter.
That began a 5-of-6 stretch for Fields on the drive, including two more completions to Olave, to set up a 19-yard pass to a streaking Dobbins down the middle of the field, ostensibly the first daylight he’d seen all game.
“We just gameplanned it, just watching film, coach Day saw that it was a great play to run against them, so we did practice it a lot in the bye week and it definitely paid off in the game,” Fields said.
At 14-3, Northwestern may not have known it quite yet, but that was all that was required for the one-two punch of Fields and Dobbins to blow the lid off Ryan Field.
With the passing attack firmly established, and a wide set out of the shotgun on the first play of the ensuing Buckeye drive, the Wildcats didn’t seem to expect a draw to Dobbins up the gut.
Dobbins exploded through the line and cut through the second level, streaking down the sideline before getting caught by a Wildcat defender just shy of the pylon. He’d punch it in from five yards out on the next play for his second score of the game.
The 68-yard burst more than tripled Dobbins’ yardage on the game, and turned a mediocre start into a standard first-half statline for the Texas native –– 122 total yards and two touchdowns.
If extending a 7-3 lead to an 18-point cushion in the course of three straight offensive snaps didn’t prove Dobbins had done enough to flip the game around, head coach Ryan Day gave him the next possession off, inserting redshirt freshman running back Master Teague into the lineup.
Behind the early work of Dobbins, and Fields’ four touchdown passes, Teague was able to bust off a 73-yard touchdown run, and freshman running back Marcus Crowley a career high 53-yard rush in the fourth quarter, turning a 40-yard first quarter team rushing performance into 279.
Dobbins passed Chris Wells to move into fifth place in Buckeye history with 3,403 career rushing yards, but he said he still isn’t where he wants to be.
“I just gotta have an amazing game, do amazing things,” Dobbins said. “I feel like I haven’t done that yet.”