Rookie backs fuel both Badgers, Buckeyes
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--J.K. Dobbins is to Ohio State what Jonathan Taylor is to Wisconsin:
A gifted freshman tailback who has made his team's offense more explosive—and probably sooner than expected.
“He is awesome,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Dobbins, from LaGrange, Texas. “He is one of those guys who supplies energy every day. He shows up ready to go to work.
“He is a grown man. It is very rare to have a guy that young come in and just provide that for you.”
Dobbins should play a critical role when Ohio State (10-2) meets Wisconsin (12-0) in the Big Ten title game at 7:17 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
UW finished second in the Big Ten in rushing at 243.3 yards per game. That was 7 yards per game behind the league leader—Ohio State. Dobbins played a key role in the Buckeyes' success.
The 5-foot-10, 208-pound Dobbins has started all 12 games, ahead of 2016 starter Mike Weber. Dobbins finished second in the Big Ten in rushing at 99.2 yards per game, with seven touchdowns. Although his per-game average is far below that of Taylor (150.5), his average of 7.3 per carry is best among the league's rushers.
“He is talented and I think they've got a really good scheme,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “He fits in well with that. You're impressed, just like I'm impressed with Jonathan, how he is able to do it over the (course) of the season.”
Dobbins and Weber, who missed two games because of a hamstring injury, give the Buckeyes two outstanding options. Weber has 10 touchdowns, 602 yards and a 6.5-yard average.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson sometimes fails to get the ball to Dobbins and Weber enough, which has put a burden on quarterback J.T. Barrett (672 rushing yards, nine TDs).
Dobbins (15-101-1 TD) and Weber (12-57-1) combined to rush 27 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-20 victory over Michigan. Weber's 25-yard run with 1 minute 44 seconds left in the game secured the victory.
Michigan entered the game allowing 116.8 rushing yards per game. The Buckeyes finished with 226 on 48 carries.
UW enters the title game No. 1 in the nation against the run, allowing just 80.5 yards per game.
“Those two young men are instrumental in our offense,” Meyer said, calling Michigan's defense one of the best he has seen. “They played hard. We ran (well) against one of the best defenses that I can remember.”
Taylor's contributions to UW's offense aren't a secret to anyone who has followed the team this season.
UW tailbacks have rushed for 2,811 yards and Taylor has 1,806 of those, or 64.2 percent. He has 13 of the 19 rushing touchdowns by the tailbacks and his per-carry average of 7.0 is No. 2 in the Big Ten.
“I think you don't quite know how each individual is going to progress,” Chryst said when asked about Taylor's emergence. “He has kept passing one hurdle and (been) ready for the next opportunity.
“He has had a heck of a year and has been a huge contributor. But I think we knew right away he is special.”
Ohio State's coaches learned the same of Dobbins.
“I think it says a lot about those two individuals,” Chryst said. “That doesn't just happen. It is a credit certainly to those two individuals and yet neither one has done it on their own.
“It is a credit to everyone around them who helped them do that. That's pretty special for freshmen to impact it, the way they both have their teams.
“It's a heck of a story.”