Buckeyes Show Grit, Not Flash, On Deciding Drive
By Brandon Castel
EAST LANSING, Mich. — On the biggest play of the game, and maybe the season, it was not Braxton Miller who carried the football for Ohio State on Saturday but Carlos Hyde.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It’s not that Miller wasn’t Urban Meyer’s go-to-guy in a back-and-forth heavyweight battle between the Buckeyes and a physical Spartans team that ransacked Miller in Columbus a year ago.
Quite the contrary.
Whenever Ohio State needed a big play, something to keep the momentum away from Michigan State’s 250-pound tailback, they called for No. 5 to make something happen and he deliver. Time and time again, he delivered.
He was flashy. He was shifty. He was everything the Buckeyes needed him to be exactly when they needed it, save for a trio of turnovers that could very well have flipped the game in favor of the home team in East Lansing.
But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, four yards standing between Meyer and his first big win at Ohio State, the Buckeyes’ head coach put the game in the hands of the OSU offensive line, and the team’s 230-pound tailback.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Coach called my number and told me if I get this first down, the game is over,” said Hyde, a junior out of Naples, Fla.
“I was determined to get that first down. Nothing was going to stop me.”
The Buckeyes had the football and the lead in the final minutes of the game, but they led by the slimmest of margins in a hard-fought road battle that ultimately came down to a third-and-4 near midfield with just over two minutes to play.
“That was the play Coach Meyer told me to go win the game,” said Hyde, who was playing in his first game back after missing the last two with a sprained MCL.
“We ran the same play a couple times before, so I knew I was going to have to cut this play and cut up the field.”
The Buckeyes had the football with only a one-point lead because Ohio State’s defense had forced a three-and-out by the Michigan State offense after the Spartans got the ball back at their own 20 with 5:39 to play.
Mark Dantonio could not have expected it would be the last time his offense would touch the football , not with a defense that ranks first in the Big Ten in yards and points allowed, and second in rushing.
This Dantonio defense was supposed to be good enough to get the ball back for Andrew Maxwell and one final shot at a game-winning drive in front of the anxious crowd at Spartan Stadium. But Maxwell never got to cross the white, at least not until it was too late.
After getting the ball back at their own 18 yard line with 4:10 to play on the road in their first real test of the 2012 football season, the Buckeyes salted away a 17-16 victory behind a dominant performance from Jack Mewhort and the offensive line.
“Offensive linemen don’t show up in the stat sheet, but when you can do something like that and everybody knows it was on the O-line and we responded and we won the game, it was a good feeling,” said Mewhort, one of only two returning starters on the offensive line.
“Obviously we really appreciate everyone else. It wasn’t just us winning the game, but at the end, when it really mattered and we had to step up, it felt good to go out there and do it.”
That was exactly where this team would have wilted a year ago. They likely would have gone three-and-out and given the Spartans the ball with good field position and plenty of time to march down the field for a game-winning kick from Dan Conroy.
He certainly had the leg, but it’s hard to make game-winning kicks from the sideline.
“I think it was just an attitude thing,” said Mewhort, who took over as the team’s left tackle this season.
“A revamped program. As Coach Meyer puts it, when you’re kicked enough times, you’re going to respond eventually.”
This team has been kicked around plenty over the last year. They endured one of the worst seasons in school history a year ago and was the constant target of media criticism for the scandals involving their former quarterback and head coach.
It was not an easy transition, and this team has struggled at times to be the kind of team Meyer would like them to be in his first season in Columbus. But not Saturday. Not this time. Not this team.
“We’ve been kicked a lot. We’ve underperformed a lot of times, and today that wasn’t the case,” Mewhort added.
“We rushed for over 200 yards against a team that was giving up 60 or something like that.”
The Spartans are still allowing less than 3.2 yards per carry this season. That’s up from an average of 2.8 yards last season, but when the Buckeyes needed four on third down, their offensive line moved bodies out of the way and their 230-pound tailback moved the pile for five yards and a game-clinching first down across midfield.
“I was excited. I came to Ohio State for that,” said Hyde, who carried the ball three times for 18 yards on that final drive. He finished with 49 yards for the game, including 45 in the second half after Jordan Hall was forced out of the game with a knee injury.
“I prepared for this game like I was the starter,” said Hyde, who actually was the starter in the opener before he injured his knee against UCF.
“Just to go in there and perform. When Jordan went down, they called on me and told me I have to step up. They kept giving me the ball. That’s all I want to do is run the ball.”
After all, this is the Big Ten, where toughness still matters.
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