- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Typically the repeated battering from his stout frame and bullish running style takes a toll on a defense, making it look like Carlos Hyde is gaining strength as a game wears on.
Now it looks like the Ohio State running back is picking up speed in the fourth quarter as well.
Illinois had enough problems containing Hyde in the early going while he was setting the table for a big finish, as the senior left little doubt that he was headed for another productive outing with a pair of first-half touchdowns that gave the No. 3 Buckeyes a comfortable lead in the locker room at intermission. But it was a two-carry stretch at the end of the fourth quarter that highlighted perhaps his most significant improvement as a rusher, with Hyde finally getting a chance to show off some breakaway speed with consecutive scoring runs of at least 51 yards to bury the Illini and polish off the best performance of his career in a 60-35 victory on Saturday.
"We came out scoring points, but we hit a wall later with a few three-and-outs," Hyde said. "Late in the game we started clicking, but we can't hit that wall."
When they do, perhaps the easiest solution is to just let Hyde crash right through it.
Ohio State's lead did get a bit closer than expected on the road against the Illini, and the offense did hit a few lulls that contributed to that shrinking margin as much as a banged-up defense that had some issues at times getting off the field. But with a chance to reassert themselves down the stretch, the Buckeyes simply gave the ball to the most prolific rusher in conference games in the Big Ten to pull away and wrap up another blowout.
The back-t0-back carries for scores accounted for 106 of his career-best 246 rushing yards, the third-highest total in school history, and gave him five total touchdowns as the Buckeyes stayed unbeaten and in the thick of the national title chase.
That closing flourish also put him within 53 yards of 1,000 for the season, despite missing the first three games of the season due to suspension and then playing sparingly in his first outing of the year against Florida A&M. But since taking over the full-time responsibilities in the backfield again to open conference play against Wisconsin with 85 yards on 17 carries, Hyde hasn't rushed for less than 111 yards.
"Carlos loves running against any type of defense," quarterback Braxton Miller said. "He just wants to improve himself and play like he has a chip on his shoulder."
That improvement even seems to happen within a game. And as the season hits the fourth quarter, he's only adding to his reputation as the ultimate closer at running back.