Ohio State tailback Carlos Hyde describes his running style as "violent." The 6-foot, 235-pound senior seeks out defenders and barrels through would-be tacklers, so the description seems apt. Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton agrees. "No doubt about it," he said.
Hyde's running style is one of the biggest reasons Ohio State is 7-0 and a contender to reach this season's BCS title game. Since late July, however, it's been nearly impossible to use that word in conjunction with Hyde without broaching a different subject entirely.
Eight days after being named a person of interest in an incident at a Columbus nightclub, Hyde was suspended by coach Urban Meyer. The case was dropped on July 30 when the woman Hyde allegedly slapped declined to press charges. Hyde missed the team's first three games against Buffalo, San Diego State and Cal before returning to the field against Florida A&M on Sept. 21.
What stung Hyde the most about his punishment from Meyer, which included roughly 15 hours of community service and solitary 6 a.m. workouts on Fridays, was the fact that he could not interact with the teammates he says he cares about deeply. As he watched Ohio State's season-opening stretch from home and practiced with the scout team, Hyde was separated from the Buckeyes. "It was a big disappointment," Hyde said. "I feel like I let a lot of people down for putting myself in that situation."
Hyde has expressed regret over the incident, and the time he missed while serving his suspension quickly became a source of motivation. Hyde felt he needed to get back on the field as quickly as possible, and when he did, to maintain a completely different mindset. "I told myself, 'You can't come out here just lollygagging or trying to take plays off,'" Hyde said. "Time to go hard every play."
In a 31-24 win over the Badgers on Sept. 28, Hyde carried 17 times for 85 yards to help the Buckeyes outgain the nation's ninth-ranked rushing attack 192-104. A week later, Hyde accounted for 206 total yards (168 rushing, 38 receiving) and three touchdowns in a come-from-behind 40-30 win at then-No. 16 Northwestern. After the game, Hyde was so overcome with emotion that he teared up in front of reporters while discussing the effect the suspension had on him. "The suspension, it really hurt not being out there, being out there with my brothers," Hyde said. "Because I made a mistake."
Said Drayton, "I was moved to tears when I had an opportunity to see that interview."
Hyde came through again in last Saturday's victory over Iowa. He rushed for 149 yards and two scores, including this 19-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to help the Buckeyes rally from a 17-10 halftime deficit.
As Hyde looks ahead to the rest of the season, he says the incident and subsequent punishment will stay in the back of his mind, but he's trying not to dwell on the past. He has a few goals he'd like to achieve before leaving Columbus, including winning conference and national championships. He also has his sights set on a few individual feats: Being named to the All-Big Ten team, winning the Doak Walker Award and becoming Meyer's first 1,000-yard rusher.
None of those goals seem unreasonable, as Hyde has emerged as a focal point of Ohio State's offense. That may confuse people who don't fully understand Meyer's spread system, which relies heavily on the power-run game. "If you study this offense, it does not go anywhere without us establishing our inside zone and our power-run game," Drayton said. "It all starts right there. It always has."
With Hyde in the backfield, Meyer has the player he needs to make his offense flourish. What's interesting is that Hyde, like many observers, long believed Meyer's scheme had no need for big, bruising tailbacks. When Meyer was hired as Ohio State's head coach in November 2011, Hyde worried that his role would diminish. "I didn't see any big guys out there running the ball for [the Gators] other than Tim Tebow," he said of Meyer's former offense at Florida.
Instead, Hyde has rushed for a team-high 443 yards and five touchdowns. "Now we have the ability to use a running back the way we've always wanted to use a running back in this offense," said Drayton, who is in his sixth year coaching under Meyer.
With games against Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana over the next month, Ohio State stands a good chance of entering its Nov. 30 regular-season finale at Michigan undefeated. Whether the Buckeyes can avoid an upset will have a lot to do with how Hyde performs down the stretch. He's been one of Ohio State's most important players since returning from suspension, and the Buckeyes will need him to continue playing at a high level to keep their 19-game winning streak intact.
"We have some opponents coming up on our schedule -- their record might not be good," Hyde said. "But we tell ourselves every week, it's a big game for us."