It was a classic case of Jekyll and Hyde in Evanston, Illinois, Saturday night, and as the literary classic says, it was Hyde who was inflicting the damage.
Carlos Hyde spent most of the 2nd half gasping for breath, but with Ohio State’s season hanging in the balance, the senior stepped up and stepped on the throats of a more-than-game Northwestern bunch, leading the Buckeyes to a 40-30 win.
The final line was impressive: 26 carries, 168 yards, 3 TD. The performance under pressure was even better considering what was at stake.
Former Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller struggled to hang onto the football, and Northwestern controlled the scoreboard, leading many Ohio State fans to call for back up Quarterback wunderkind Kenny Guiton. The answer, though, was in the backfield.
With 11:20 left in the 3rd Quarter, the Wildcats hit a field goal to take their biggest lead, 23-13. From that point on, Hyde toted the rock 18 times for 113 yards and all three touchdowns, adding 30 of his 38 receiving yards for good measure.
He did so while looking like he couldn’t handle another snap, let alone another carry with Wildcats defenders dragging behind him. Hyde is still working back into game shape after his season started with a three-game suspension, but his effort was unquestioned and unwavering in this week.
What’s ahead looks decidedly less daunting for Ohio State, but for anyone who knows the Buckeyes, it won’t be a walk in the park. OSU is off for a week before Iowa (Home), Penn State (H), Purdue (Away), Illinois (A), Indiana (H) and Michigan (A) wrap up what could be a 24-game winning streak to start the Urban Meyer era.
The problem is, Ohio State fans have a long memory, and a number of teams on the remaining schedule have ruined otherwise great seasons one too many times in the past. Let’s take a walk down a not-so-fondly regarded memory lane, starting from most recent.
2009: 11-2 record with losses to No. 3 Southern Cal and 5-7 Purdue. The Boilermakers were not good, highlighted by a loss to a 7-6 Northern Illinois team. That October Saturday in West Lafayette, though, the Buckeyes had no answer, losing 26-18. This would be the first time since 2001 OSU lost to a team with an eventual losing record. The negative outcome had no bearing on national championship aspirations because there were five undefeated teams at the start of bowl season that year with Alabama beating Texas for the title.
2007: 11-2; losses against Illinois and No. 2 LSU. The Buckeyes played for the BCS Championship, but that plan was almost derailed by a loss at home against Illinois. Ohio State was ranked No. 1 at that point, and it was the first time the Illini beat a top ranked team on the road in their history. Ohio State backdoored into the national championship game when Missouri and West Virginia both lost in the season’s final week.
2005: 11-2; losses vs. No. 2 Texas and @ No. 16 Penn State. When the season started, everyone knew the early OSU-Texas clash could decide which team plays USC for the crystal football in January. Texas won that game keeping the Bucks out of that conversation, but the loss at Penn State put the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl. The bright side: Ohio State got a BCS At-Large into the Fiesta Bowl where they whipped Notre Dame.
2003: 11-2; losses @ No. 23 Wisconsin and @ No. 5 Michigan. College football was wide open with Southern Cal and LSU splitting national titles, and the Buckeyes could’ve easily been in the middle of it. They fell victim to eventual 7-6 Wisconsin away from home. Then, with the Big Ten title on the line, lost at Michigan. They still booked a trip to the Fiesta Bowl where they beat Kansas State.
1998: 11-1; loss vs. Michigan State. Okay, so the Buckeyes don’t play the Spartans this year, but this one is still particularly painful for a number of people. This team was stacked, and their closest game during the regular season was a 31-16 win against Michigan…except for the 28-24 loss to Michigan State at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes led 17-3 after the 1st Quarter before crumbling. The Spartans finished 6-6, and preseason No. 1 Ohio State watched as undefeated Tennessee took the first BCS title. OSU finished No. 2 in the polls.
1996: 11-1; loss vs. No. 21 Michigan. The Buckeyes were ranked second and firmly in the hunt for the national title when the Wolverines scored all of their points in the second half to win 13-9. Ohio State still finished the season No. 2 after beating undefeated Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, but Florida was voted national champion with a 12-1 record.
1995: 11-2; loss @ No. 12 Michigan. It was the Wolverines biting the Bucks the season before as well. Michigan was ranked 12th at the time, but OSU was the only one with a Rose Bowl berth on the line. A win would have punched the ticket. The loss sent Northwestern to the big game. The one-loss Buckeyes ended up losing to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl.
1993: 10-1-1; tied No. 15 Wisconsin and lost to Michigan. It was the 6-4 Wolverines ruining plans to Pasadena once again. The Buckeyes needed a win to get to the Rose Bowl, but Michigan skunked them, winning 28-0 and sending the Buckeyes to the Holiday Bowl. Wisconsin got the ticket to the Rose Bowl, where they beat UCLA.
There are eight examples in just 20 years of Ohio State getting its big dream dashed against a lesser opponent, but those don’t even account for bad losses that added up in other seasons. Consider this. Since 1988 (25 full seasons) Ohio State has lost to unranked Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, Michigan, or Penn State (their final six opponents of 2013) 13 times. The leading culprit on that list is obviously Michigan, but since 2000 it’s actually a tie between the Boilermakers and Nittany Lions.
Purdue has beat the Buckeyes four times in ten games since the turn of the century, an extremely high number considering the four Ohio State losses came against three unranked Purdue teams. Against the Nittany Lions, its been more marquee match ups. Ohio State is 7-4 in those games, with six of them happening with both teams in the AP Top 25.
Moral of the story: While everyone seems to be checking off wins weeks in advance, Ohio State better continue living and dying by the boring old “week at a time” mantra. If any team knows what can happen when you aren’t prepared for a lesser opponent, it’s the Buckeyes, and the hope for Urban Meyer is that this group excels in studying – but not repeating – history.