J.K. Dobbins looked like the cat that ate the ostrich. A canary is too small to describe how smugly satisfied the Ohio State tailback looked after leaving Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor in his wake.
All week, a handful of Buckeyes players — led by A-plus needler Chase Young — reminded Dobbins that OSU would be playing against “the best tailback in the Big Ten” when Taylor showed up at the Horseshoe on Saturday.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
Outwardly, Dobbins took the ribbing in stride. Inwardly, the junior heated up like a blowtorch, turning the teasing into motivation to outgain Taylor by 111 yards in Ohio State’s impressive 38-7 win that put the Buckeyes firmly in the conversation as the nation's best.
Dobbins rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries (8.2 yards per attempt). Taylor was limited to 52 yards on 20 attempts (2.6). Much of the disparity was due to Ohio State slamming the door on Taylor, who entered as a Heisman Trophy candidate averaging 136.7 yards per game, good for third best nationally (Dobbins came in No. 4 at 135.3).
But Dobbins made sure he did his part, no matter how much Ohio State’s defense slowed Taylor. He was not going to be overshadowed by the Badgers’ junior.
Dobbins didn’t admit any such thing, of course. He didn’t have to. That look. Every time I mentioned Taylor, the corners of his mouth turned up in a delicious smile, a kind of Grinch Who Stole Christmas expression, except in this case he stole the show. He said his “outside sources” always clue him in on how critics continue to overlook him. Never mind that against Wisconsin he became the first Ohio State running back to rush for 1,000 yards as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
“They’re still doubting,” he said, smiling again.
Despite the good-natured grief, Dobbins’ teammates have no doubts. To a man they singled him out as the nation’s top running back.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day did the same.
“I think he’s the best running back in the country,” Day said, explaining that Dobbins rises to the challenge as well as anyone on the team.
“That’s when you know you’ve got the right stuff,” Day said of the way Dobbins responds when the coaching staff pushes his motivational buttons.
Confession: I was among those who wondered if Dobbins would flash enough to take pressure off quarterback Justin Fields. I knew the Texan was good. But great?
Well, shut my mouth. At 5 feet 10 and 217 pounds with above-average speed, he is the muscle in the middle of the offense, now averaging 138.8 yards and showing a nifty ability to make big catches out of the backfield.
And it’s no small thing to enter the Ohio State record book ahead of such backfield legends as Archie Griffin and Eddie George.
“It’s a blessing, because a lot of great running backs have come through here,” he said of securing three 1,000-yard seasons in as many years. “I don’t take it lightly. I think about all the guys who came through here and am just trying to carry on the tradition.”
As for getting bombarded by Young’s yackety-yak — “he’s given me crap about (Taylor) all year,” Dobbins said — the tailback fired back with a spark. For all the talk about Young being impossible to defend, Dobbins boldly stepped into the discussion.
“I can block him,” he said, the impish grin returning.
Who am I to question? He’s proved me and many others wrong. But there is one thing Dobbins simply cannot do. Toot his own horn.
“I’d give myself a B (grade),” he said.
Then what’s an A?
“We’ll see, in due time.”
No doubt we will.