Ryan Day is the architect of the most devastating passing attack the Big Ten has ever seen, but when Ohio State's 2019 season kicks off, he'll be leaning on J.K. Dobbins and a powerful rushing attack to pace the Buckeyes offense.
That may feel like a departure from a winning strategy or stepping too far outside the brand, but for Day, it's the logical move.
Ohio State doesn't have the benefit of a returning starter at quarterback, or even a signal-caller who was on the roster this time a year ago. Day proved last season that he doesn't need an experienced signal-caller to get the Buckeyes' passing attack moving, but he had Dwayne Haskins, an NFL talent who had been entrenched in the program for three years.
This season, the two leading candidates in Ohio State's quarterback room are sophomore Justin Fields and graduate transfer Gunnar Hoak, both of whom were playing in the SEC last season.
Fields, a former 5-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, transferred from Georgia early and took part in spring practice. Hoak didn't transfer from Kentucky until after spring camp ended, so Fields has the leg up.
This shuffling at quarterback isn't ideal for a first-time head coach, and that's why Day plans to rely on the ground game the first half of the season.
"He’s one of the guys that has to play good... especially in the first six games of the year," Day said of Dobbins at his Wednesday press conference. "He’s got to have a good year for us."
The experience Ohio State lacks at quarterback isn't an issue at running back. Dobbins returns for the Buckeyes as one of the most talented ball-carriers in the country. During his freshman season, an injury to Mike Weber forced him into a starting role and he thrived, setting a school record for first-year backs with 1,403 rushing yards.
He followed that up with another thousand-yard rushing season (1,053) last year as he split carries more evenly with Weber in a pass-happy offense. It felt like a step back, but without a running threat at quarterback and the prioritization of the passing game, the holes weren't as big for Dobbins in 2018.
With Fields the presumed starter at quarterback, Ohio State will have that running threat behind center this season. A return to his freshman form seems more likely because of that, and Dobbins himself is confident a big season is on the horizon.
“We’re going to win the national championship, and I think I’m going to have a pretty good year," Dobbins said when looking ahead to the 2019 season. "That’s all I can tell you."
Everyone seems to agree that Dobbins has to be a focal point this fall.
"That’s been a challenge for [Dobbins]," Day said Wednesday. "Tony’s challenged him, I’ve challenged him, Kevin Wilson’s challenged him, Mickey Marotti’s challenged him."
That challenge means you'll likely see Dobbins with the ball in his hands a lot through the first half of the season.