EVANSTON, Illinois — The Ohio State Buckeyes remained unbeaten Saturday night because they had Carlos Hyde and Northwestern didn’t.
It’s deeper than that, of course, but that’s what decided a wild game and kept No. 15 Northwestern from what would have been its biggest win since at least 2000. Ohio State trailed by 10 in the third quarter but did just enough to hang around, and Hyde scored three touchdowns in the final 19 minutes to keep No. 3 Ohio State unbeaten with a 40-30 win.
The final score is misleading. Ohio State’s second half plan of attack was not a secret, but Northwestern still couldn’t stop Hyde.
Hyde ran for 168 yards and also had 38 receiving yards on four catches, three of which accounted for first downs. He ran with authority and set the tone for an Ohio State team that seemed stuck in the mud — more on the turf later — for much of the first half but was the aggressor down the stretch. Northwestern needed lots of bodies and lots of energy to tackle Hyde on his 26 carries, 16 of which came in the second half.
“I think I did wear them out,” Hyde said after the game.
And then he cried at the press conference podium.
Suspended three games after an altercation with a woman at a Columbus bar in July — no charges were filed, but it was clear that Hyde at least lunged at her in retaliation — Hyde knows he’s lucky to still be playing at Ohio State.
With this Saturday night national-showcase game, now many know that Ohio State would not be holding the nation’s longest win streak without him.
Northwestern grew the Ryan Field grass high. It rained Saturday afternoon, hard at times, making that grass soft. It was gamesmanship, and it might have slowed Ohio State at times. It made a perfect environment for Hyde.
He had 126 yards in two games since the suspension, 85 last week in another grinding and leading role against Wisconsin. In that game he was the closer — Ohio State was playing to escape — but in this one he was the key to picking up an offense that had become otherwise stagnant.
“This is the Carlos Hyde Game,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
The latest and maybe greatest threat to what’s become an 18-game run at the start of the Meyer Era came up short because Northwestern had to settle for field goals in the red zone three times and because Hyde played pinball with would-be Northwestern tacklers in the second half.
He was the pinball, bouncing and battling and pushing his way to 112 yards in the second half, 53 in the fourth quarter alone.
Ohio State’s two other touchdowns came on a blocked punt and then a fumble recovery in the end zone on the game’s final play as Northwestern needed to try for a series of laterals and a miracle. It’s been Ohio State that’s been the charmed team time and time again during this run, but this rally happened with a mix of a little bit of luck, just enough defense and heavy doses of the 235-pound Hyde.
“I’m built for this,” Hyde said. “I’m built to carry it that much.
“Coach said he was going to ride me, and he did. When a coach tells you that, you get excited.”
Said Meyer: “That shows how much I trust the kid.”
Hyde was still in full uniform, shoulder pads and all, when he cried at the podium. He didn’t look ready for 20 more collisions but didn’t look like he’d fear them either.
He’s not taking anything for granted.
Hyde’s first touchdown brought the Buckeyes to within three, at 23-20, with 3:54 left in the third. Four and a half minutes into the fourth, Hyde had a bruising, twisting run from two yards out ruled a touchdown only after review — and only after Meyer had sent the field goal team on, then called timeout, then sent the offense back out.
Meyer went back to Hyde for the go-ahead points, again, on a 7-yard touchdown run with 5:22 left.
The Buckeyes go on, not without bruises and warts but without a loss. The big dreams remain out there. It’s early October, but a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game, at least, is already looking like a lock.
Ohio State has a long way to go. It sure looks like the Buckeyes will continue to ride Hyde and let him lead the way.