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Race officially on to replace J.K. Dobbins in Ohio State backfield

Marcus Crowley-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State running back Marcus Crowley could push for the starting job next season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Race officially on to replace J.K. Dobbins in Ohio State backfield

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the running backs? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

Marcus Crowley was in the process of perhaps making the backup spot more competitive, putting on a late-game clinic against Maryland that showed exactly why Ohio State thought it had struck overlooked gold last year on the recruiting trail.

But while breaking off one more impressive run, the freshman’s eighth carry on the way to 82 yards with a score resulted in him laying on the turf with an injured knee — a season-ender that might have been more damaging for the Buckeyes than it seemed at the time.

In the long run, Crowley is expected to be fine, although it’s still not been entirely clarified by the program if he’ll be full go in time for spring practice. But in the short term with Master Teague seeming to hit a wall as the season progressed, it clearly hurt the Buckeyes that they didn’t have anybody else to turn to in the Fiesta Bowl once J.K. Dobbins was slowed by the left-ankle injury against Clemson. Between the two tailbacks, it looked like Crowley might have more of the all-around package for the position and an impressive combination of speed and elusiveness, which might have come in handy in the College Football Playoff.

After all, there was a reason Ohio State didn’t redshirt Crowley last year. And once he gets back to full strength, it will be fascinating to see what happens in a battle with Teague now that Dobbins has officially declared for the draft — and Steele Chambers can’t be overlooked in that competition either.

Master Teague-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State running back Master Teague finished with 789 yards last season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“I think [Crowley and Steele Chambers] are going to be really good players here,” Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said last season. “They’re hungry to learn, they’re getting better … and they’re learning what college football is all about. Just the attention to detail that’s necessary every single day — and not for just certain spurts within the day, but all day. How important it is to take care of your body and to study the game away from the field.

“I’m very pleased. I think they’re both going to be really good players for us here at Ohio State for years to come. We’re just going to continue to work and get better.”

There’s no choice now but for the Buckeyes to all take a step forward, because replacing one of the most productive rushers in school history is no small task. Dobbins raised the bar in the backfield over the last three years, and it was clear just how much Ohio State relied on him when he was sidelined in the second half against Clemson and Teague was only able to manage 9 yards on 7 carries.

The sophomore proved to be a nice complement to Dobbins throughout the majority of the season, and Teague clearly made improvements from his first year to his second. But in the four biggest games of the year down the stretch starting with the Penn State matchup, Teague combined for just 45 yards on 21 carries — and wasn’t given the football at all in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin. If Master Teague is going to be the top guy for Ohio State, those numbers against stout defenses simply won’t be good enough.

Of course, Marcus Crowley hasn’t had his chance to show what he could do against that level of competition thanks to that knee injury, so it’s premature to predict a shakeup to the depth chart is coming. But there’s certainly going to be an open race to win the job, and the pressure is officially on for those Buckeyes now.

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Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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