COLUMBUS, Ohio – This sure wasn't the offense a lot of people expected out of Ohio State.
A lot of fans might have hoped the Buckeyes would average 40 points a game, which they are. But almost no one envisioned Urban Meyer's spread offense would end up working so seamlessly alongside Woody Hayes' tenets — a big back, a big line and enforcing your will on the opponent.
Despite ironing out the kinks in a new system, NCAA probation and a bowl ban, the seventh-ranked Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) in many ways look a lot like Hayes' Buckeyes teams from the 1970s that used to live off pushing people around.
"This is something that's new for Urban because we never had that type of physicality," said Stan Drayton, an assistant to Meyer at Florida and also his running backs coach at Ohio State. "Now that we have it with these guys here, man, it's really fun to watch the offense develop."
Meyer's hiring was supposed to usher in an era of throwing it around, backs used as receivers and receivers carrying the ball. The speed — in terms of personnel and even the rapidity and number of plays — would be breathtaking.
Instead, muscular Carlos Hyde has brought back a Buckeyes' attack from another time, when it was routine to see 235-pound tailbacks muscling through a sliver of daylight created by the hand-to-hand combat up front of a massive offensive line.
To his credit, Meyer doesn't have a problem with the Buckeyes grinding out first downs on terra firma.
"We have had two back-to-back games where it's almost 600 rushing yards," Meyer said, referring to the victories over Nebraska (223) and Indiana (353 yards on the ground). "You kind of go back to what's working well for you. It's just been a little bit different the way we manage the game. Because at the end of the day we have to win it. If that means a little more imbalanced in the run, I'm fine with that."
The reason the Buckeyes can rely so heavily on Hyde, who has rushed 296 yards the past two weeks, is because of the threat of quarterback Braxton Miller breaking loose out wide.
Defenses have to be wary of the shifty Miller in the open field, so they have difficulty packing the line of scrimmage to stop runs between the tackles. Behind a big front wall that is playing at its best, Hyde has found a home.
"I don't think that we knew we'd be running the ball out of as much power stuff as we are now," said starting left tackle Jack Mewhort.
When Meyer and his staff first arrived in the spring, the line wasn't terribly aggressive, Hyde wasn't working hard and the receivers were not very good. No wonder Meyer called the first few days of running his spread "a clown show."
Gradually, the line started clicking, Hyde and the other backs began to find some rhythm, the receivers improved — and Miller was always there to make up for any part of the offense that didn't get the job done. Early in the season, he saved the Buckeyes time and time again by freelancing for big yardage. It appeared that Meyer was basically saying to his sophomore signal-caller, "Go out and make a play and win this for us." And he did.
Now Ohio State has advanced far beyond that. Miller can still make plays with his arm and his feet — he's rushed for 912 yards and nine TDs through seven games and has thrown for 1,271 yards and 11 scores — but the rise of Hyde at tailback has transformed the offense.
"I saw a lot of passion in him, breaking through arm-tackles and stuff," left guard Andrew Norwell said of the 6-foot, 232-pound Hyde. "He was just trying to get the first down, running really hard. That makes us more confident up front, that we have a big back back there doing his job makes us feel pretty good."
Meyer said of Hyde's career-high 156 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Indiana: "We just didn't start very fast. He did not (either). But he got real strong. By the end of the game, he was a man."
Hyde couldn't be happier with his increased role in the attack. He got 28 carries against Nebraska, 22 last week.
"I'm ready. Whatever the number is they give me, I'm ready," he said. "Whenever the coach calls my number, I thrive off of that. I want to run the ball and when I have the opportunity to run the ball I'm going to make the best of it."
Meyer and his offensive staff have adapted to think bigger. It has paid huge dividends. Rather than try to make Ohio State players fit into the mold the coaches perfected during two national championship seasons at Florida, they've massaged their own offensive philosophy and theories so it includes backs unlike what they've used before.
"The beauty of this offense is that it fits the skills of our players," Drayton said. "It can always be adjusted to the skill that we have with them, our personnel. (Meyer's coaches) have always been a power, inside-zone outfit, no matter where we've been. It's just that down in Florida, you were doing it with guys who weighed 185 or 190 pounds. Now you're doing it with a 235-pound back, and these guys when they hit it they break a tackle or two."
And that would have pleased the late Hayes to no end.
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap