Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle at times with all the talent on this year’s Buckeye roster, but make no mistake — the junior is one of the most important players on the team. It was more of the same for Dobbins against a highly-touted Michigan defense, piling up 211 yards with four touchdowns while adding another 49 yards through the air on a pair of receptions. For his efforts, he was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for the fourth time this season.
Dobbins’ performance was not just impressive as he led his team to victory, but also historic. While the 211 yards and four touchdowns were both career highs for the 5-foot-10, 217-pound RB out of La Grange, Texas, his 260 total yards from scrimmage were the best ever by an Ohio State RB against the Wolverines. He became just the third Buckeye to rush for four touchdowns against TTUN, while also passing Ezekiel Elliot for second place on the OSU career rushing list — trailing only Heisman-winner Archie Griffin.
Ohio State has relied on a dominant rushing attack to set up a lot of what they do on offense all season long, and Dobbins has been up to the task. The junior has now ran for 1,657 yards and 19 touchdowns — both career highs — while averaging an impressive 6.6 yards per carry. On a national scale, Dobbins is fourth in FBS in rushing yards despite an average of 52 less carries than those above him. While guys like Chuba Hubbard and Jonathan Taylor get almost all of the hype, J.K. Dobbins is sneakily one of the best running backs in the country.
While Dobbins has been the engine that keeps the offense running, Ohio State would be nowhere without its revamped defense. One of the guys responsible for the incredible turnaround on that side of the ball, especially after a dreadful defensive season a year ago by the Buckeyes, is co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley. The first-year OSU assistant coach has his guys playing at an incredibly high level, and as a result has been named one of the five finalists for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
Hafley is up against three guys functioning in full-time defensive coordinator roles, as well as LSU’s passing game coordinator Joe Brady for his work on the Joe Burrow-led Tigers air attack.
Ohio State was incredibly poor on defense a season ago, struggling in both stopping the run and making plays in the secondary. Hafley, part of a trio of defensive staff hires including Greg Mattison and Al Washington, has played an immense role in the rebuild, and has his defensive backs once again playing at an elite level.
He has shown an impressive ability to get the most of out his players, even when guys go down. Against Michigan, the Buckeyes were without starting slot corner Shaun Wade, and later in the game lost another starter in Damon Arnette. After getting gashed a bit through the air in the first half, OSU was able to make adjustments in a big way — holding Wolverines QB Shea Patterson to 4-of-24 passing with just 55 yards in the game’s final two quarters, even without two of its best players in the secondary.
“It was close [for Wade], we just determined that he wasn’t quite ready. We wanted to be smart with that, and I think we made the right decision. So, we’ll keep letting him heal up, and he should be ready to roll for this week.”
Speaking of Ohio State’s injured defensive backs, there is some good news on that front heading into the upcoming Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin. It appears Wade should be healthy and ready to go against the Badgers, as Day described him as close to playing against Michigan. It is unclear what injury is bothering Wade, but the decision to hold him out against the Wolverines could prove to be beneficial moving forward as he got another week to heal up for the National Championship hunt.
Injecting Wade back into the defensive backfield will be a huge boost for the Buckeye defense. The sophomore corner leads the team with seven pass breakups on the year, with one interception and two forced fumbles. Wade has also played a big role in certain Blitz packages, also having recorded three tackles for loss and two sacks this season. The DB has functioned primarily as Ohio State’s slot corner, and his return will alleviate a lot of the pressure off the linebackers having to help out in coverage over the middle of the field.
Arnette, a starter on the outside opposite Jeff Okudah, played in the first half against Michigan, but left the game with an apparent injury sometime in the third quarter. The senior has been playing hurt all year with a cast on his wrist, but it looked like a leg injury this time around. His status for this weekend is still not entirely clear, but judging by how he looked moving around and celebrating postgame, it would not be at all shocking for him to be back on the field against the Badgers.
Ohio State will have to get the most out of its trio of great cornerbacks in the postseason, as it is unlikely any of the three will return next season. Okudah and Wade are both expected to be early-round NFL Draft picks, while Arnette has exhausted his eligibility and will probably also join his teammates at the next level.