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EVANSTON, Ill. — Carlos Hyde cleared his throat and tried to swab his tears, only to realize it was no use.
For more than 20 seconds, in a packed interview room deep inside of Ryan Field early Sunday morning, the Ohio State running back did not say a word.
Hyde had just run for a career-high 168 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ 40-30 win over No. 16 Northwestern, and now he was weeping.
It was, for some, a complex scene. The senior was speaking for the first time since he was suspended the first three games after an altercation with a woman at a Columbus bar this summer. Though no charges were filed and specifics of the incident are hazy, pundits varied on the severity of the punishment.
But Saturday night, Hyde’s emotion was real and unrestrained. He said he felt he had let his teammates down, and hoped his performance marked the first in a line of redemptive games.
"That suspension, it really hurt not being out there, not being out there with my brothers because I made a mistake," Hyde said. "This is definitely something I have been waiting for. That was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through. But I just kept my faith. I prayed to God every night, and if I got the chance to come back out there, I was going to cherish that moment. I’m excited, and I'm just loving every moment of it."
His teammates, too, savored a comeback win that featured one swing after another.
From the opening minutes, when the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) faced their first deficit of the season, it was not one of their better nights. They trailed much of the game while star quarterback Braxton Miller’s play had coach Urban Meyer telling the bullpen to get warm. Miller completed 15 of 26 passes for 203 yards and had three turnovers — including two fumbles.
Though Miller said he did not notice backup Kenny Guiton throwing on the sideline early in the second half, Meyer said he was "real close" to making the switch.
"My heart bleeds," Meyer said. "I almost put Kenny in there. I gave a big hug to him because I love him. ... We were riding [Miller]. I just didn't think it was an appropriate thing to do right there."
In the end, though, Miller and the Buckeyes deflected the punches. Miller was sharp on OSU’s game-winning 81-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter, a big-play defense had five sacks and a decisive late interception by Doran Grant, and Hyde mushed behind a dominant offensive line and through the rain-soaked grass for three second-half scores.
What did the win mean? Ohio State firmly established itself as the class of the Big Ten, held tightly to its national championship dream, and extended a national-best 18-game winning streak that has no end in sight. The Buckeyes’ next five opponents — Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana — are a combined 14-12 overall. After dispatching back-to-back top-25 teams, they have only one ranked opponent left in the regular season — No. 18 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Nov. 30.
If Meyer would not get ahead of himself, others gladly did. He smiled when a reporter asked if the Buckeyes could run the table for the second straight year.
"You're the guy that sits next to the guy throwing a no-hitter and says, ’Hey dude, you've got a no-hitter going,’" Meyer said. "I’m not even thinking about that. We're going to get ready for the stretch run."
First up is a bye this week. Then, with critical reinforcement in Hyde now on board, the attempt to complete the no-hitter.
Meyer called Hyde the Buckeyes’ "horse." Hyde ran for 85 yards on 17 carries last week against Wisconsin and was the only trusted option at tailback Saturday with Jordan Hall (knee strain) a late scratch.
"We all make mistakes," he said, "and I'm hoping this is a game-changer for him."
His voice cracking, Hyde vowed it was.
"I can't get those three games back," he said. "I go out every game with the mindset that I have to make up for those games. When I'm out there, I'm running with a whole different demeanor than what I would have had from the beginning of the year if I didn’t get suspended. I have a different hunger for the game."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.