The first time, hell froze over.
The second time, lightning struck twice.
There’s no way Ohio State shuts down the Big Ten’s best running back a third straight time, right?
“I’m very motivated. My team is going to try and lean on me to make plays, and I gotta make sure I am ready this week and have a great week of preparation so when my number is called, I am able to go out and execute,” Wisconsin junior running back Jonathan Taylor said in a teleconference interview Sunday.
Ohio State junior running back J.K. Dobbins has a legitimate argument against heralding Taylor with such a title, given their lopsided head-to-head matchups.
The Buckeyes are the only team in college football to hold Taylor under 80 yards on two separate occasions in his three-year career, running for just 93 total yards on 35 carries in his two prior meetings with Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Dobbins chewed up 174 and 163 yards in the same games, running for nine yards per carry while Taylor couldn’t manage three.
Still, Taylor boasts laurels that Dobbins lacks.
Twice a top 10 Heisman finisher, 2018’s rushing champion and Doak Walker Award winner even beat out Dobbins for the Big Ten’s Running Back of the Year just days after the best performance of the La Grange, Texas, native’s career.
Dobbins kept his feet moving, shoes tied or otherwise, to the tune of 211 yards against Michigan, moving him into a rarified air that Taylor also occupies –– second in all-time rushing yards at a program lauded for its propensity to run it down your throat.
“I think the similarity is they’re both really, really good, talented football players,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “They’re in different systems and play for different teams so I think that makes it harder to just say, ‘One’s this, one’s that,’ but they both mean a ton to their team and they’re both really, really good football players.”
Add in four touchdowns, and it was a career-high day in both categories for Dobbins, who notched his second-ever 200-yard game Saturday.
Taylor’s had three in the past four games.
After Ohio State handed Taylor the second game of his career in which he ran for less than three yards per carry –– the other also coming against the Buckeyes –– the Badger back went off for 250, 204 and 222 yards in his next three games, rushing for eight yards per attempt.
That level of dominance is nothing new for Taylor, though. With 1,761 yards through 12 games, No. 2 in the nation, it would be Taylor’s worst season if he didn’t take another snap.
It’s been Dobbins who has been playing catch-up this year. His 1,657 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns are both significant improvements on his previous season-highs, granting him No. 4 and No. 5 in the country in each category, but both are a hair behind Taylor’s pace.
Dobbins played down the notion of a head-to-head competition with Taylor before and after their most recent matchup, but his teammates did not.
“We were messing with J.K. the whole week, talking about, ‘The best Big Ten running back is coming to the ’Shoe,’” sophomore quarterback Justin Fields said. “J.K. is a great running back, of course.”
There’s no animosity from Taylor, though. He said running backs in general share a bond due to the “tough-sledding” and punishment required of the position, and Taylor said that’s no different when it comes to Dobbins.
“I think J.K.’s a great runner. I really like the way he finishes his runs. I don’t think a lot of people talk about the way that he finishes his runs. He always finishes them very physical,” Taylor said.
With the Big Ten’s top two rushers squaring off against the Big Ten’s top two run defenses in the conference title game, there’ll be no lack of physicality on the line of scrimmage at any point Saturday.
Dobbins and the Buckeyes are up two rounds on Taylor and the Badgers, but the third could see a knockout punch from either side.