Rob Oller | Ohio State’s dominance keeps Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins on sideline

Rob Oller
With Ohio State piling up the points in the first half of games, Heisman candidates Justin Fields (1) and J.K. Dobbins (2) have been spending much of the second half of games on the sidelines, depressing their individual numbers. [Joshua A. Bickel]

Ohio State’s two Heisman Trophy candidates on offense are victims of the Buckeyes’ first-half success. Quarterback Justin Fields and tailback J.K. Dobbins are putting up big numbers the first two quarters, then watching from the sideline as their statistics reach a full stop.

Even the French work longer than that. But it’s not the players’ fault. Their team is simply too good, outscoring opponents 405-38 in the first half, which allows coach Ryan Day to play backups and third-teamers after halftime.

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Productivity isn’t the issue for either Dobbins or Fields — when they’re on the field. Dobbins still ranks fourth nationally in rushing yards per game (128.9) despite not having a single second-half carry in four games. The junior has 76 fewer rushing attempts than national leader Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State, 50 fewer than second-place Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin and 89 fewer than No. 3 AJ Dillon of Boston College.

Fields threw for a career-best 305 yards against Rutgers on Saturday in one half and the opening series of the third quarter. The sophomore ranks fourth in passing efficiency behind Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and LSU’s Joe Burrow, but his yardage numbers trail well behind those three. He ranks 52nd in total passing yardage, just behind — ahem — Brian Lewerke of Michigan State. Burrow is second, Hurts seventh and Tagovailoa 13th. But Fields also has 18 fewer attempts than Hurts, 22 fewer than Tua and 141 fewer than Burrow.

Don’t think Day hasn’t noticed the numbers discrepancy based on minutes played. After Rutgers, he made a thinly veiled pitch for his two Heisman candidates.

“If you double those stats, he throws for 500 or 600 yards,” Day said of Fields’ passing stats against the Scarlet Knights. “If he’s playing in those games and playing for four quarters, they’re saying he’s right there for the leader of the Heisman, but because of the situation he’s in he’s not getting those reps.”

Day also addressed Dobbins’ performance against Rutgers.

“J.K. the same thing. Ninety-two yards (actually 89) on 17 carries and he only plays the first half,” Day said. “He plays for another half of football he probably goes over 200. I don’t think those guys should be penalized for that. I still think they’re two of the better players in the entire country.”

Day was less fired up while revisiting the topic Tuesday, having had time to cool off.

“It’s a good problem to have,” he said of enjoying the luxury of resting starters the second half, and especially in the fourth quarter, when Ohio State has the game wrapped up. “(But) for those guys, I get it, too. They’re competitive. They want to be out there and they want to have production. And they are. They’re producing at a high level. There’s a lot of football left, and they know that.”

Day is right, to a point. The Buckeyes have a minimum of two games remaining, and could have as many as five left, including a Big Ten championship game and two College Football Playoff games.

But there is a Catch-22 at play. The remaining games come against better opponents, which theoretically means closer games and more playing time for Fields and Dobbins. But better teams also usually bring better defenses that make for tougher statistical sledding for the two Heisman candidates.

Fields has a much better shot at winning the Heisman than Dobbins, who suffers simply because the running back position is increasingly being de-emphasized. Fourteen of the past 16 Heisman winners played quarterback, including eight of the last nine.

That said, both Buckeyes may get something of a last laugh. They may not win the bronze award, but there is a good chance they get their hands on the national championship trophy.


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