By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: Urban Meyer couldn’t be happier that Carlos Hyde is returning to the field for No. 4 Ohio State — even though it might create some minor headaches when it comes to playing time.
Hyde missed the first three games when he was suspended after an alleged assault against a female at a Columbus bar this summer that did not lead to charges.
“I’ve got to make this clear: He is welcome back,” Meyer said. “It’s been a terrible three weeks for him. He’s handled his business the right way. If he didn’t handle his business the right way, he wouldn’t be playing in this game.
“He’s been very unselfish.”
Jordan Hall has been very, very good at tailback in place of Hyde, last year’s leading scorer and second-leading rusher for the Buckeyes. Now Meyer will have to wedge in another quality back, splitting the workload and tailoring plays for the big senior.
“He will play,” Meyer said of Hyde. “Where he is on the depth chart will be determined this week in practice.”
Even though Ohio State is an overwhelming favorite against Football Championship Subdivision Florida A&M on Saturday, at least fans ought to be entertained by watching the rotation of running backs and quarterbacks for the Buckeyes.
Hyde is not the only new guy thrown into the mix.
Braxton Miller is expected to return after missing most of the last two games with a sprained knee ligament. He will vie with stellar fill-in Kenny Guiton for snaps.
It’s an abundance of riches. Most teams would love to have one dependable quarterback or running back. Ohio State is blessed to have both Miller and Guiton, then will toss Hyde into the mix with Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and Dontre Wilson at tailback.
The Buckeyes’ coaching staff harps constantly on backups and other subs being mentally prepared to play. This will be a major test of that sermon.
Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, a Walsh Jesuit product, was a longtime NFL player before he returned to his alma mater as an assistant three years ago. He recently listened to a radio interview with Oakland Raiders’ running back Rashad Jennings, a former backup at Jacksonville behind Maurice Jones-Drew. It ended up being a story that Vrabel related to the Ohio State coaches and players.
“One night late, they were doing an interview with [Jennings],” Vrabel said. “His approach was that there are no backups, that the backups were the people who weren’t in the league or weren’t on the team. He approached every game as a starter. That was what enabled him, when Maurice Jones-Drew went down, to come in and be really productive.”
Hyde, a bulldozer with breakaway speed at 6-foot and 235 pounds, rushed for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns a year ago — coming close to becoming the first running back in Meyer’s 11 years as a head coach to crack the 1,000-yard mark.
Hall was figured to be the starter a year ago, but he cut his foot in a freak accident, then returned in midseason and injured a knee. He ended up playing in seven games.
So when Hyde was banished to the sideline, Hall, who had been granted a redshirt year for his injuries, took over. He has 402 yards on 64 carries and two touchdowns, piling up career bests of 168 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns in a 52-34 win at Cal on Saturday.
“He’s made an unbelievable change as a person,” assistant Stan Drayton said of Hall. “All the adversities that he had to face with the injuries and some of the things that he quite honestly put on himself, he’s really grown.
“Now it’s transferring into his football.”
Smith, suspended for the opener for a violation of team rules, has had three carries each of the last two weeks. Wilson, a freshman speed merchant, rushed for 59 yards on five carries at Cal.
One possible way to share the workload is to add Hall as an H-back, both a hybrid slot receiver and a ball carrier, similar to how Meyer used Percy Harvin when he was at Florida.
“I don’t know; I’ve been thinking about that,” Meyer said of moving Hall to the H-back spot. “It’s a good issue to have, because Carlos did a lot for us a year ago. A lot. He’s a very talented running back and [the suspension] was hard on everybody. It was hard on Carlos most of all, but it was hard on all of us, too, because Carlos did a lot of good things.
“That whole situation I don’t know. I’ll answer that later in the week. Jordan Hall certainly has earned the right to touch the ball in a big way, so I’m not sure yet.”