J.K. Dobbins could not have asked for a much better start to the Fiesta Bowl.
The Ohio State running back ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run on the Buckeyes’ second possession to stake them to a 10-0 lead.
He went 64 yards on the last play of the first quarter to set up an Ohio State field goal and finished the first stanza with 141 yards.
He surpassed Eddie George’s school record for rushing yards in a season (1,927) in the process, and was nearly halfway to George’s single-game rushing mark (314 yards) with three quarters yet to play.
There was talk of Dobbins matching Ezekiel Elliott as a postseason hero for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes had good reason to think a trip to New Orleans to play LSU in the national championship game was in the works when they held a 16-0 lead in the second quarter.
None of that came to pass, though.
Dobbins twisted his left ankle in the second quarter and was never quite the same.
He left the game at one point and returned after having it retaped in the third quarter. That allowed him to continue to be part of the Ohio State offense, but the Buckeyes missed the explosiveness that differentiated those long gallops in the first quarter from quick bursts for a few yards in latter stages of the game.
“They made some good adjustments up front,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We were throwing the ball a lot in the second half. Receivers and the protection and Justin (Fields), they made some big plays, but it was hard to run the ball. They were kind of coming at us different ways.
After crediting Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables for adjusting to how Ohio State was attacking the Tigers on the ground, Day acknowledged the impact of Dobbins’ injury.
“He was really working through that, but I think it did affect his play a little bit,” Day said. “He didn’t have that explosion. Couple of those first runs in the first half, he came out of the back end of those things, he looked powerful. What a gritty performance by him to come back in the game and play.”
Dobbins, who also dropped a screen pass that could have gone for a big gain before the Buckeyes settled for a field goal on a drive in the second quarter, did not have much to say in the locker room after the game.
“I didn’t play good enough,” he said.
He confirmed having pain in the ankle and said it had been taped wrong before he returned to the game for good.
“I mean, it didn’t go as planned,” he said when asked to evaluate the season. “So, I mean, it’s a failure.”
Master Teague, a redshirt freshman who was named third-team All-Big Ten after rushing for 780 yards in the first 13 games, was mostly ineffective in Dobbins’ place against the Tigers. Lacking Dobbins’ ability to change directions (when healthy), Teague finished the Fiesta Bowl with five yards on seven carries.
Dobbins, who is widely expected to enter the NFL Draft rather than use his last year of eligibility, finished the night with 2,046 rushing yards this season.
He is the first Buckeye to crack the 2,000-yard mark and stands second on the career rushing list with 4,559 yards. Only Archie Griffin (5,589) has more.
Against Clemson, Dobbins logged his 19th career 100-yard rushing game — the only one Ohio State lost.