Everybody is talking about Carlos Hyde’s comic-book-hero touchdown run in the fourth quarter Saturday.
It was one of those SportsCenter top plays of the day offerings, a 19-yard run by the 235-pound Ohio State tailback that included a burst to the outside, a spin away from a defender, a stumbling, stagger five yards backward, an acrobatic rebalancing and then a surge forward again and finally a dive into the end zone for the score.
That had the Horseshoe crowd of 105,264 roaring and afterward it left Buckeye offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman speechless except for one word: “Wow!”
And yet, in my opinion, the run that came the play before that — a back-and-forth, across-the-field scramble by OSU quarterback Braxton Miller — not only was better, but it was a big reason for Hyde’s heroics.
Let me explain:
The game was tied 24-24 and Ohio State was facing a third down-and-seven situation at the Iowa 28 yard line.
Miller took the snap, stepped up in the pocket to pass, found no one open and was forced to make a mad scramble toward the right sideline. Once there, with Iowa defenders closing in, he set up to pass again, realized he wouldn’t be able to make the throw, tucked the ball in and promptly turned and ran all the way back to the left side of the field with the Hawkeyes again in heavy pursuit.
He finally made his own lunge for the first down. Officially the play went down as a nine-yard run but Miller had run nearly 75 yards to make it happen.
His play wasn’t just spurt of the moment balancing act, it took problem solving, speed and in Hyde’s words “just crazy talent.”
The play also left the Iowa defenders gassed. Some of them were noticeably sucking wind, just trying to get a breath, when OSU immediately ran a sweep and Miller flipped the ball to his tailback.
Hyde’s score and a 25-yard Drew Basil field goal later in the quarter gave the unbeaten Buckeyes the needed margin in this harder than-expected 34-24 victory.
“I definitely feel like we feed off each other,” Hyde said of Miller. “I definitely feed off Braxton out there. When I see him pull it down and he takes off for a long run and get fancy and stuff, I get excited, same as the fans.
“When Braxton starts running I ALWAYS expect a big play. You never know with him. He’s unbelievable. He can make nothing into something. To see him get a first down, to see him scramble one way and another way … I mean, he’s just unbelievable.”
Miller, the junior out of Wayne High, threw decisively Saturday, completing 22 of 27 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 102 yards on 18 carries.
Head coach Urban Meyer said he thought Miller “played really well.”
Part of the reason for that is that the opposing defense never gets a breather because of the bruising emergence of Hyde, who, following a three-game suspension to start the season, has become a back who’s beginning to reminds you of OSU glory runners of old.
Saturday, he ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns against an Iowa defense that hadn’t given up a rushing touchdown this season.
Another key to the 7-0 Bucks offensive success Saturday was the play of the offensive line. “They’re my favorite players on the team,” Meyer said. He especially singled out Taylor Decker, the sophomore right tackle from Vandalia Butler who he said is really “coming of age.”
But make no mistake. The catalyst Saturday was Miller.
“I feel like that was the old Braxton today,” Hyde said. “He got back to his old self … He had more confidence in his self. We all saw that tonight.”
You didn’t see it the last time the Bucks played — two weeks ago at Northwestern. OSU managed a victory that was a lot closer than the final 40-30 margin, but Miller turned the ball over three times with an interception and two fumbles.
Add in the early season knee sprain that sidelined him for two games and most of a third — and the evaporation of his Heisman Trophy campaign before it ever got in full stride — and you can understand if Miller was out of sorts for a while this year.
He’ll never tell you that — he keeps his thoughts and emotions to himself mostly — but Herman talked about it after Saturday’s game.
The Bucks had a bye following the Northwestern game so that lefty a two-week window for the coordinator and his quarterback to have some sit-downs.
“For the past two weeks we had some heart-to-heart conversations about the joy of the game. About loving the game and going out and having fun and taking some of the pressure off himself,” Herman said.
“The kid has been the starting quarterback at The Ohio State University for a long time and he had a ridiculous amount of preseason hype. And I think he’d be the first to admit he feels that pressure.”
Before the season began, Miller was considered one of the front runners for this year’s Heisman. He was pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and his own teammates spoke of him in other-worldly terms.
“You know you’ve got a guy out there who is straight out of a video game,” senior tackle Jack Mewhort said before the season.
Against that backdrop — and with the way Miller’s season had played out since — Herman said some new focus was needed:
“We worked really hard on just having the mindset of going out and playing and having fun. Not necessarily taking uneducated risks – not being a gunslinger — but just Braxton trusting himself and trusting the joy of the game.
I said. ‘Just go out there and play … Just be you.’”
Saturday, he was.