Not long ago, it was one of Ryan Day’s biggest worries.
As the season approached, Ohio State’s coach had full confidence that J.K. Dobbins would bounce back from a somewhat disappointing sophomore season and be the bell-cow running back the Buckeyes needed.
But Day knows that one running back can’t carry the entire load. Day needed someone to emerge as a reliable backup, and no one had. During news conferences throughout training camp, Day continually cited that as a major issue.
It no longer is.
Master Teague has emerged as a powerful complement to Dobbins. While Dobbins ran for 193 yards in 22 carries in Ohio State’s 51-10 rout of Indiana on Saturday, Teague added 106 yards in 10 carries.
“There’s contact and he’s falling forward for 4 yards,” Day said of Teague. “Boy, that makes a huge difference.”
On his 40-yard touchdown run, Teague ran through a hole opened by right guard Wyatt Davis and tight end Jeremy Ruckert and then broke the tackle of an Indiana safety.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Teague runs with a violent style, almost seeking out contact at times.
“He runs really hard,” Buckeyes running backs coach Tony Alford said last week. “The kid is a powerful kid. He's big and strong. He attacks defenders. I think we're becoming more and more comfortable every single day with him.”
The Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native played in only four games last year to preserve his redshirt. Teague hoped to solidify his status as Dobbins’ top backup in training camp. But he spent much of it sidelined with an unspecified injury.
“It didn’t quite go the way I thought it would in fall camp,” Teague said. “I focused on trusting God and what He has for me so I kept on working and had a positive mind-set. Anything negative I thought about, I put it to the side.”
While Teague healed, Day stewed. Ohio State’s only other scholarship running backs are junior Demario McCall and true freshmen Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers. McCall has bounced around between running back and hybrid receiver and is viewed as more of a situational player. Crowley and Chambers are talented, but coaches want them to get more seasoning before having to rely on them.
That’s what has made Teague’s emergence so important. He ran for 49 yards in the opener against Florida Atlantic and 60 against Cincinnati. He is averaging 7.4 yards per carry.
“I'm very proud of him,” Dobbins said. “He's been working hard. He’s going to keep getting better and better, so he's going to be a guy to look out for.”
A year ago, Dobbins shared carries with Mike Weber. Though he revels in his status as the undisputed No. 1 runner, Dobbins understands the importance of a capable backup.
“It's like when Mike was here,” he said. “It keeps me fresh.”
Dobbins is eligible to enter the NFL draft after this season, so Teague could get his shot soon to be the No. 1 guy.
“I'm an every-down back,” he said. “I can get those short yards, but I can also break long. My pass pro(tection) has been getting better. I've still got a long ways to go on that, but I feel a lot more comfortable with that — tremendously — from last year to this year.”
For now, he’s helping Dobbins as the Buckeyes establish a new offensive identity.
A year ago, the Buckeyes were more of a passing team because of the wondrous arm of quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. In 2018, the Buckeyes ran the ball 549 times and passed 561.
This year, Ohio State has run 136 times and passed 82.
“Last year was a little bit different with Dwayne,” Day said. “It’s just a whole different set of dynamics this year. We have multiple tight ends. We got a big, veteran offensive line. We're creating some depth at running back.”
Play-action passing with Justin Fields is becoming a bigger part of the offense.
“Where does it go from here? I don't know,” Day said. “But I remember talking in the preseason like, ‘Where's the journey? What's this offense going to look like?’ We're starting to forge our identity.”
It now includes Teague.
Nebraska at night
The Big Ten announced that Ohio State's game at Nebraska on Sept. 28 will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be televised on ABC (Channel 6).