FORT LAUDERDALE — Quarterback Braxton Miller might have garnered the Heisman Trophy hype in Columbus, Ohio, this season, but it could be argued that Carlos Hyde, the six-foot, 235-pound running back from Naples, was Ohio State's most valuable player in 2013.
The bowling ball of a back ran for 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 games this season — and on seemingly every one of his 183 rushing attempts this season, he broke at least one tackle.
Hyde wasn't just the Buckeyes' star running back, he was Ohio State's soul-crusher — the team's closer. When times became trying for the Buckeyes this season, Hyde was the man Ohio State coaches trusted to have the ball. And when the Buckeyes rode senior late, he broke not only opponents' tackles, but their spirits as well.
Ohio State will need its closer in Friday night's Orange Bowl, as the Buckeyes will take on a Clemson team that can stake legitimate claim that it is the toughest opponent on OSU has faced all season.
"To be able to close out a game is huge," Hyde said Tuesday. "Not too many teams can close out a game. …We know at some point in this game, they're going to call on us to close this game out, and when they call on us, we take advantage of it and come through."
How do you come through in late-game situations? According to Hyde, you have to change your way of thinking.
"Now you know that everybody is keyed in on you. Now you have to make not just one person miss, but a couple people miss to get the first down and get the yards that you need. Your mindset definitely has to change."
Hyde knows about changing mindsets. While he has rolled over defenders all season, Hyde's yet to shake the suspension that kept him out of the first three games of the season.
The suspension was levied when Hyde allegedly struck a woman in a Columbus nightclub in July, and while criminal charges were never brought against the running back, coach Urban Meyer's penalty stuck. Meyer said the suspension was for "conduct not representative of this football program or this university."
Since returning from suspension, Hyde and his teammates haven't directly commented on the circumstances around the three-game ban, but they have given it titles like "the adversity" and "the trying times."
Hyde was full of confidence during Tuesday's Orange Bowl media availability, holding court at a table in the corner of the room, declaring that he would have won the Heisman Trophy this season had he not been suspended, that he was going to break the Orange Bowl rushing record and that he watches his spectacular touchdown run against Iowa on YouTube frequently.
But that brimming confidence dipped when he was asked about what he learned from "the adversity" Tuesday. Ultimately, he said it strengthened his religious faith, forced him to focus more on football and left him with a debt to his teammates — one that he's been trying to pay off on the field all season.
"I think the challenges he faced and the way he overcame them speaks a lot to who he is," offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. "He didn't sulk, and any time he was around us, he was positive. Obviously, when he came back, he ran with a lot of passion, ran hard, and made [the offensive line] look good."
"He's had a tremendous year. Obviously, we have one more game to prove that he is the best running back in the country."
Meyer saw that change as well. He told reporters before the Big Ten Championship Game that the suspension worked.
"For the past three months it certainly has," Meyer said. "I'm hoping it will for the rest of his life. I love his approach to everything right now."