Hyde keeps OSU's streak, hopes alive

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Several minutes after Ohio State coach Urban Meyer watched his Buckeyes win their 18th consecutive game and extend the country's longest winning streak on Saturday, a reporter reminded him that OSU had reached the halfway point of its regular season with an unblemished record.

"Do you think you can finish the thing out?" the reporter asked.

"What are you?" Meyer asked. "The guy that sits next to the pitcher throwing a no-hitter, who tells him he's throwing a no-hitter? We're not even thinking about it. We're going to go and get ready for the stretch run."

Let's be honest: Ohio State just finished its two-week stretch run. After the No. 4 Buckeyes came from behind to beat No. 16 Northwestern 40-30 at Ryan Field on Saturday night, there's only one regular-season game remaining that they really have to worry about -- their Nov. 30 regular-season finale against No. 19 Michigan.

And with the way the Wolverines have struggled on offense lately, "The Game" might not even be much of a contest.

Here are the teams that Ohio State plays between now and then: Iowa (home), Penn State (home), Purdue (road), Illinois (road) and Indiana (home). It's hardly a murderer's row, and it's why the Buckeyes better hope there isn't more than one unbeaten team from power conferences left at the end of the season.

Six games into the 2013 season, the Buckeyes have barely broken a sweat and they won't break another one until they go to Ann Arbor, Mich. Their schedule might be what keeps them from playing in the final BCS National Championship, depending on how everything else shakes out.

Even if the Buckeyes go 12-0 in the regular season and win the Big Ten championship game, there's a chance they could be bypassed for the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC champions, if those teams also finish unbeaten.

That's what made their last two games so important and their performance was, well, kind of so-so.

To be fair, Ohio State is a good team, and Meyer, who won two BCS national championships at Florida, still hasn't lost as its coach. But we still don't know how good the Buckeyes really are because they haven't been tested much in each of the past two years. In fact, since starting its long winning streak in Meyer's debut last season, OSU hasn't faced a team ranked higher than the Wildcats.

For a while on Saturday night, it looked like the Buckeyes' winning streak might end in the long grass of Ryan Field. So much so that Meyer nearly benched starting quarterback Braxton Miller who came into the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate. In the end, it was tailback Carlos Hyde who kept OSU's perfect season intact.

After trailing by a touchdown at halftime, OSU fell behind 23-13 after Northwestern's Jeff Budzien kicked a 32-yard field goal with 10:40 to play in the third quarter. Ohio State drove inside the Wildcats' 10-yard line on its next drive, but Miller was stripped by linebacker Damien Proby at the 7. Defensive end Dean Lowry recovered the fumble, turning away a Buckeyes scoring threat.

On the OSU sideline, Meyer told backup quarterback Kenny Guiton to get ready. Guiton, a senior from Houston, threw for 12 touchdowns in three games while Miller was sidelined with a knee injury. Miller came back last week and led the Buckeyes to a 31-24 win over No. 23 Wisconsin, throwing for 198 yards with a career-high four touchdowns, while running for 83 yards on 22 carries.

But against Northwestern, Miller wasn't particularly sharp throwing the ball and seemed indecisive running the ball. Worse, he had two turnovers in the first half. He fumbled inside the Buckeyes' 25, which led to the Wildcats' first touchdown, and also tossed an interception after his arm was hit while throwing. Early in the second quarter, Miller overthrew a pass to receiver Chris Fields, who was wide open in the end zone.

After Miller's third turnover, Meyer seemed ready to bench him.

"You have to hit that touchdown. He usually does," Meyer said. "My heart bleeds, but I almost put Kenny in there."

Meyer said he came really close to going with Guiton in the second half. "We were riding," Meyer said. "I didn't think that was the appropriate thing to do at that point." Miller bounced back after his third turnover and completed 15 of 26 passes for 203 yards, while rushing 17 times for 68 yards. Miller said he didn't know he was on the verge of being benched. "I didn't know nothing about that, so I don't know," Miller said. "You know, it's Coach's decision. Whatever he feels like. It's all on him." With his quarterback seemingly rattled, Meyer put nearly everything on Hyde's shoulders. After sitting out the first three games because of a suspension that stemmed from an incident with a woman in a bar during the offseason, Hyde might have to carry the Buckeyes the rest of the way. He ran 26 times for 168 yards with three touchdowns against the Wildcats.

Hyde's 4-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter pulled the Buckeyes within 23-20, and then he scored on a 2-yard run to make give them a 27-23 lead with 11:29 to go.

After Northwestern went ahead 30-27 on Trevor Siemian's 12-yard touchdown to Cameron Dickerson with 9:10 left, Ohio State drove 81 yards, with Hyde scoring on a 7-yard run to go ahead for good.

"He's the horse right now," Meyer said. "I think he's a great player. It tells you how much I trust the kid. His whole career was just kind of mush. He hadn't done a lot for himself or this program. We all make mistakes. I think this is a game-changer for him."

Hyde was a game-changer on Saturday night, when the Buckeyes needed him more than ever.