COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The defenders tasked with stopping No. 10 Ohio State might soon be seeing double when they look into the Buckeyes' backfield.
Freshman sensation J.K. Dobbins' 425 rushing yards through three weeks have already made it clear he’s too good to take off the field. Then again, so is Mike Weber, last season's Big Ten Freshman of the Year and one of three Ohio State freshmen ever to top 1,000 yards on the ground. So will coach Urban Meyer and his staff find ways to keep them both out there together?
“Oh yeah,” Meyer said Wednesday night. “I like those checkers.”
Dobbins’ whiff-inducing athleticism would have landed him in the limelight one way or another this season, but his introduction to college football has been sped along this September while Weber nurses a hamstring injury. Weber has carried the ball only seven times this season, and the Buckeyes likely won’t need to test his sore muscle this weekend against visiting UNLV. That hasn’t kept Meyer & Co. from thinking about when both guys are up to full speed.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve had that quality of player standing next to each other,” said Meyer, who never had a player break 1,000 rushing yards before he arrived at Ohio State for the 2012 season. “If they’re both 100 mph, if they’re both fresh and ready to go, I don’t know if I’ve ever really had that.”
While splitting touches will help keep both backs fresh, Meyer also wants to give defenses more to think about by using a two-back formation. He thinks Dobbins and Weber pair nicely together. Left tackle Jamarco Jones, who has cleared the way for both of them over the course of the past two seasons, agrees.
“Mike is more of a north-and-south guy,” Jones said. “He can make people miss, but he’ll run people over. J.K., he’s got that explosiveness to him. They complement each other really well.”
Jones marveled at the freshman’s ability to make tacklers miss. What sets Dobbins apart isn't just the ability to make pursuers look silly in the open field, but also to leave them empty-handed when he meets them in the hole or near the line of scrimmage. Dobbins ranks third among FBS-level backs with six carries that have gone for 20 yards or more. When he breaks loose, it usually starts with a sharp, lateral cut that doesn't slow him down and leaves defenders falling over themselves.
Dobbins said he’s been pulling that move since middle school in La Grange, Texas. He has the highlight reels to back it up, too. He said he doesn’t do anything special to sharpen that particular tool.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time so it just comes natural,” Dobbins said. “Everything happens on the go. It’s natural.”
Before he was breaking ankles at Ohio State, though, Dobbins missed his entire senior season of high school with his own injury problems. He broke his fibula on the first play of his first game last fall. Meyer said that originally gave him pause after watching Dobbins’ elite film from his junior season. Meyer wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the Texan when he showed up on campus. Those doubts didn’t survive past the first few conditioning sessions in Columbus after Dobbins enrolled in January.
Even then, it would have been difficult for the Buckeyes staff to imagine the rising star getting off to as hot a start as Dobbins has this September, particularly as the excitement around Weber’s maturation built throughout the offseason. Only in the past few weeks have coaches started having conversations about how to make the most out of both backs in the coming months.
Dobbins said he’s not sure how those plans will play out on the field, but he’s looking forward to sharing a backfield with his new teammate.
“If that happens, it’s going to be great,” he said. “It’s going to cause a lot of problems for defenses.”