Ohio State vs. Wisconsin Features Duo Between Dobbins, Taylor

Weather may force teams to limit passing in Top 15 showdown
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With constant rain in the forecast for No. 3 Ohio State's noon kickoff Saturday against No. 13 Wisconsin, passing the football may be problematic and thus the outcome may tilt toward the team with the most powerful rushing attack.

If so, that would be bad news for Wisconsin.

Although the No. 13 Badgers have a two-decades-long reputation as the ground-and-pound kings, with a tailback legacy unmatched over that duration in college football, it's Ohio State that features the most-dominant rushing offense in the Big Ten this season.

And, even though Wisconsin has a 5,000-yard career rusher in junior Heisman Trophy contender Jonathan Taylor, the rushing comparison between teams really isn't close.

OSU has steamrolled its way to an 7-0 start with tailbacks J.K. Dobbins, Master Teague and quarterback Justin Fields providing the bulk of a 287-yard per-game rushing average.

Wisconsin, despite its customary mammoth offensive line and Taylor being just 43 yards shy of 1,000 this season, produces 235 yards per-game.

It's not that the Badgers are struggling to run the ball, but they're still 52 yards per-game shy of Ohio State's production.

Even so, Dobbins isn't viewed nationally like Taylor, who already has 15 rushing touchdowns this season and 44 for his career.

That's understandable, given Taylor's near 2,000-yard season as a freshman and his 2,194 yards last year.

He's been the focus of Wisconsin's offense ever since stepping on campus.

"He’s strong, fast, can change direction, powerful, guys bounce off of him, runs with an attitude," OSU coach Ryan Day said of Taylor. "A lot of guys that big don’t have the agility he has. He has good agility. He can run away. He’s good out of the backfield. He’s caught the ball. He’s kind of an all-purpose back."

Dobbins fell into Ohio State's starting tailback job as a true freshman when holdover 1,000-yard rusher Mike Weber suffered a hamstring injury prior to the 2017 season-opener.

Dobbins broke in with a 29-carry, 181-yard performance at Indiana and finished that season with 1,403 yards, while sharing the job with Weber.

Weber was healthier last year and the split tilted more toward 50-50, which caused Dobbins totals to fall to 1,053 yards.

When Weber left early for the NFL (only to go undrafted), Dobbins saw a chance in 2019 to become the Buckeyes' main rushing focus.

He's delivered in a big way and enters the Wisconsin game only 53 yards shy of becoming the first Ohio State running back ever to rush for 1,000 yards or more in each of his first three seasons.

That's right, neither two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, nor fellow-Heisman winner Eddie George did so.

Taylor has breakaway speed that Dobbins doesn't possess, although Dobbins has nifty moves and can make people miss in the open field, as he showed on a 68-yard run Friday in OSU's 52-3 win at Northwestern.

"J.K. got to the second level and he had to make the safety miss," Day said. "What you notice there is that he wasn't taking a long time to make his move. He was pretty efficient. What happens is, if you take a long time setting him up, then the pursuit comes from behind and gets him.

"He made that move really quick and then he came back out of it and it turns into an explosive."

Once Taylor breaks the line of scrimmage, it's doubtful any defense will catch him.

He was a New Jersey high school sprint champion with 10.5 100-meter speed that he showed on a 72-yard touchdown run early in the Badgers' rout of Michigan.

Lately, though, Taylor has faded a bit from that 203-yard performance.

Sure, he piled up five touchdowns against woeful Kent State, but two of Taylor's three-lowest per-carry averages in games this season have since come against Northwestern and Michigan State -- defenses Dobbins made look much worse.

Player/opponentAttemptsYardsYds/carryTDs

Taylor vs. N'western

26

119

4.6

1

Dobbins vs. N'western

18

121

6.7

1

Taylor vs. MSU

26

80

3.1

2

Dobbins vs. MSU

24

172

7.2

1

On the year, Taylor has 10 more rushing yards than Dobbins on 26 more attempts.

In their only previous career meeting, in the 2017 Big Ten championship game, Dobbins won MVP with 17 carries for 174 yards. Taylor finished with 41 yards on 15 carries.

This season, Dobbins has been more productive on a per-carry basis (7.2) than Taylor (6.6), but the argument could be made that's because Ohio State has blown out more opponents, thus giving Dobbins more time on the sideline so backup Master Teague can share carries.  

Teague's 73-yard per-game average ranks sixth in the Big Ten individually.

He's less likely to be caught in the open field than Dobbins, as Teague showed on a 73-yard touchdown run last week at Northwestern.

"He's a home-run hitter." Day said. "When he gets to the second level, he's really a threat. He's big with track speed. (He has) those big, long, powerful strides and can pull away."

Wisconsin's run defense is No. 1 nationally with a 58.4-yard per-game allowance. It will attempt to disrupt Dobbins and Teague with a four-linebacker, three-down linemen look that no one solved until last week, when Illinois rushed for 141 yards on 35 carries.

Leonhard may also try to confuse the Buckeyes with one fewer linemen and an additional defensive back or safety to spy Fields as a scrambler or ballcarrier on the Zone Read.

"It starts with the run game and seeing what issues they present to us or we can present to them,” Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. "We know we can create some issues … how they have to prepare for one vs. the other. And if they know they have to prepare for both, that gets to be a high volume of looks they have to see."

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