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Backs to the future

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was a Heisman Trophy candidate rolling up yardage and stocking the highlight films.

The guy lined up with him was a bruising runner with a nose for the end zone, capable of finishing off any drive that sniffed the goal line.

Either history is repeating itself or Ohio State has always known the secret formula for putting together a backfield capable of grinding opponents to dust and lighting up scoreboards thanks to a seemingly perfect complement of rushers who don't mind where the spotlight goes or count the number of trips to the end zone.

And while it is almost certainly premature to put Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the same company as Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson, there are a few similarities emerging between the present-day, seemingly unstoppable combination and the one that, in 1975, really was.

"The attention or wanting more carries never even crossed my mind," Johnson said. "It wasn't about Archie or me -- we were a complete team. Everybody just did their part, and you had to because [coach] Woody [Hayes] demanded it.

"Maybe a lot of people would say if it wasn't for me, Archie wouldn't have those two Heismans. If it weren't for Archie, I know I wouldn't have had all those touchdowns, because he was the lead blocker for a lot of them."

The Buckeyes obviously aren't in a hurry to use their quarterback to pave the way for Hyde, which, for starters, is one clear difference in the prolific partnerships separated by nearly three decades. And there are several other contrasts to be made, from the fact Miller is taking the snaps to how much work he has to do before he can think about the possibility of winning one bronze statue, let alone two.

The parallels between Johnson and Hyde aren't perfect either, though the latter is starting to find just as much short-yardage success as Ohio State's legendary fullback and all-time leader in touchdowns. The latest scoring machine for the Buckeyes ran up his total to 13 rushing touchdowns in a season that has been slightly shortened by a knee sprain in September, with 11 of those scores coming in the past five games.

Only one of those rushes this year has been longer than 8 yards, and obviously a few have been set up thanks to some work by Miller to put his teammate in position. There's at least a chance Hyde's effectiveness in finishing off drives might end up hurting Ohio State's Heisman campaign, though Miller has 13 touchdowns of his own, but Griffin only made four trips to the end zone on the way to his second trophy -- and like the guys who came before them, neither Hyde nor Miller seems to be worried about his own numbers.

"I mean, none of that means anything to me," Hyde said. "I don't really pay attention to it. I just want to help my team get the win.

"Whatever that involves, then I'm all for it."

So was Johnson, who, just like Hyde, was no slouch when the Buckeyes weren't in the red zone, as he battered his way to 1,059 yards while sharing the load with Griffin.

And while there was no Heisman in it for him, Johnson was rewarded with 25 touchdowns personally to go with a perfect 11-game run through the regular season and Big Ten title game. Even that comparison between the backfields hits a bit of a snag, as the Buckeyes can't compete for the league crown this year due to NCAA sanctions. But a perfect season is still in reach if the latest one-two punch can help knock out a few more opponents.

"The offense is totally different, I think," Johnson said. "But when you have two runners going, that's very difficult to stop. The defense has to look at more things, and then when you throw the passing game in the way they do it, that's a tough offense.

"When you pound them, you make them respect you and they don't want to tackle you. I think Hyde has figured that one out. That last touchdown when he went in against Illinois, it was awesome."

Maybe it wasn't exactly like old times, but it might qualify as a scoring blast from the past.