It’s widely accepted that Ohio State needs to get No. 1 running back J.K. Dobbins more than the six carries he had last week in a loss at Iowa heading into what amounts to an elimination game from the Big Ten championship race on Saturday against Michigan State.

Along with the four interceptions thrown by J.T. Barrett, the Dobbins stat emerged as a touchstone of what went wrong for Ohio State — just like Ezekiel Elliott’s 12 carries for what went wrong two years ago in a 17-14 loss to Michigan State that knocked the Buckeyes out of the running for a shot at a second straight national title.

That Elliott gained just 33 yards on his 12 carries that day was lost on many, including Elliott, who complained openly afterward. Dobbins did no complaining after the Iowa game, but neither was he made available to the media that day or in the week since.

What made Dobbins’ reduced role a talking point was that he averaged 8.5 yards on those six carries. He did have five catches in the game, but first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said this week that he understood the issue of getting the ball more to Dobbins, who is second in the Big Ten in rushing with a 101.2-yard average.

“You still have to find it in the run game, though,” Wilson said. “Sometimes it’s in the game plan and we don’t even call it, and sometimes it just didn’t work out like that, not meaning to.

“We go into every game trying to have balance, take care of the ball, and take care of the quarterback with pass protection, be physical and score. We don’t try to be radically different, but sometimes with the flow of the game, things start spiraling.”

Going back again to that 2015 Michigan State game, nothing worked consistently that day. Ohio State eked out just 132 total yards and five first downs, getting off only 45 offensive plays. That’s the main reason the Spartans won 17-14 on a last-second field goal.

Could something similar happen Saturday? Michigan State has the No. 3 rushing defense nationally, an 87.0-yard average, and Ohio State is coming off a game in which Iowa decided it was going to take away Dobbins or Mike Weber on the Buckeyes’ zone-read option and force Barrett to keep the ball. It showed in how Barrett had 14 carries compared with a combined 11 for Dobbins and Weber.

Michigan State’s defense not only will try to do the same thing, it has done it the past two years against the Buckeyes.

In a 17-16 win last year at Michigan State, Weber rushed for 111 yards, but they came on just 14 carries. Barrett was the main ball-carrier, with 24 attempts for 105 yards. Those are decent stats, but just like Iowa last week, the Spartans forced the Buckeyes out of their game plan, and despite being on the way to a 3-9 record, almost pulled the upset.

That’s why the challenge Saturday remains the same, and though the Buckeyes probably can succeed without Dobbins getting more than, say, 15 carries, the final number still will be a sign of how things went.

“They are intent on stopping the run, and we’re going to be intent on trying to run it,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “These games are won or lost up front. We’re going to find out.”