ANN ARBOR, Mich. — On J.K. Dobbins’ first carry Saturday against Michigan, the ball fell out of his grasp and bounced off the turf.
Dobbins had fumbled last week against Penn State, and Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said that it had rankled the junior running back all week. But Saturday was a different day, starting with that fumble. The ball bounced right back to Dobbins — call it the Dobbins dribble — and he gained 34 yards.
It was a sign of things to come. Dobbins finished with a career-high 211 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries in Ohio State’s 56-27 victory.
The junior has been a beastly runner this year, motivated by what he considers to have been a disappointing sophomore season. But he ran with even more determination Saturday. On Ohio State’s first possession, he accounted for 79 yards, including a 28-yard reception on a third-down conversion.
"He had a little different look in his eye," Day said. "He did. I know he was sick to his stomach about the fumble last week, and he wore that on his sleeve all week and practiced well. But he just had a look in his eye that he was not going to be denied. It was the same look as our offensive line, too, and tight ends and receivers. They all kind of had that look. But J.K. ran hard."
He also ran smart. Dobbins is at his best when he combines vision with his speed and strength. Dobbins did that all day. On his third touchdown run, he waited patiently for the offensive line, particularly left guard Wyatt Davis and right tackle Branden Bowen, to open a crease and then slashed through it for the score.
Michigan tried everything to stop him. On one play, Michigan defensive lineman Carlo Kemp took off one of Dobbins’ cleats after a tackle, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Dobbins capped his day with a 33-yard touchdown run around the right side, diving into the end zone as a Michigan tackler tried in vain to slow him.
"He’s a really good running back, probably the best we’ve played all year," Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson said. "Gotta give the props to him. He’s a hard runner, and congrats to him."
Dobbins has run for 1,657 yards — 6.6 per carry — and 19 touchdowns this season. As well as he has played, he is still considered as ranking third among Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy candidates behind defensive end Chase Young and quarterback Justin Fields.
Day said all three deserve to go to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Dobbins helped his cause on Saturday. But the hunger that has driven him this year has not abated.
"I'm not satisfied," he said. "I'm not even close to being satisfied. "I just feel like there's so much more I can prove with my God-given talent. I feel like a lot of people are overlooking it."