COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Terps senior wide receiver Teldrick Morgan paused for a moment, thought hard on it, but came up blank a few moments later.
"He's got no flaws," he said succinctly of sophomore running back Ty Johnson's game.
Hyperbole notwithstanding, on Saturday night you could say that again.
Johnson, who some thought could get further lost in the shuffle with the return of former starter and senior Wes Brown to the lineup Saturday night against Purdue, posted a career night of 204 yards on just seven carries (29.1 ypc) to go with two touchdowns and lots of drama as Maryland blew doors off the Boilermakers in their B1G Ten opener.
Not only did the true sophomore from tiny Fort Hill High School in Cumberland notch the eight and 48-yard touchdown rushes in the second and fourth quarters, he scooted up the middle for a 76-yard gut-buster on a second-and-21 play to set up another score in the third quarter as Maryland went ahead 36-0 and in full control. Oh, and let’s not forget the other 56-yard scamper he had from scrimmage, all patiently allowing and following his blocks to set up flawlessly on a night the Terps ground game churned out 400 yards rushing to shred Purdue.
Johnson, who started the first two games before yielding to Trey Edmunds of late, was third in the crowded Terps backfield in rushing entering last night's contest with 129 yards on 21 carries (still a nifty 6.1 ypc) and one score. Now, his outburst against the Boilermakers makes the five-headed (if not six) monster of a Terps backfield even more compelling of how the reps and yards will shake out this season for the undefeated Terrapins.
Johnson, at 5-10, 210 pounds, totaled the most yards in a game since Brandon Ross' 245 yards against Indiana last season, while his yards-per-carry mark set national marks this season for 200-yard rushers. Last year he showed glimpses here and there, breaking off some long runs at Rutgers in the season finale, but nothing like this. Especially given all the raging competition at the spot, each and every practice and game.
All from a kid from Cumberland, once a football hotbed but not much any longer, who many thought two years ago coming out of Fort Hill was too small, too slight, maybe a better receiver or corner, all when it came to projecting into the B1G Ten’s physical, pounding style.
"There was just no listening to them," Johnson said Saturday night of critics before a throng of media.
What a difference a year makes. Johnson added 30 pounds in his first year at College Park to dispel any rumblings he couldn't take the B1G pounding between the tackles and beyond.
"Anyone can do their thing whatever size you are," Johnson said, "but the big thing for me is we play in the Big Ten and there's some big 'backers. So my big thing was gain weight, keep my speed, and be able to pass-pro when need to and lower my shoulder when I need to."
Johnson had never had a 200-yard game before in his career, even the storied all-state one he enjoyed at Fort Hill and all his reams of yards as a running back/return star for the Western Maryland tiny public.
Now he continues to carve his niche in the deepest Terps backfield in recent memory, which added Brown (five carries, one reception last night) to an already powerful mix.
"We just compete so hard in practice. We all just want the best for one-another," Johnson said. "And Wes coming back it just adds another arsenal in the game for us."
It started last spring in camp practices when fifth-year senior transfer Trey Edmunds (second on the team in rushing heading into Saturday with 128 yards) was added to the mix, and got more intriguing when true freshman LoLo Harrison (team-leading 208 yards through the first three games) burned his shirt in the opener and never looked back as the Terps' shiftiest back. And not to forget converted fullback Kenny Goins, who got in the act by losing 10 pounds in the off-season to transition to running back where he boasted a 7.7 ypc mark heading into Purdue.
"It helps a lot. It is like a full head of steam to have a guy come out and another guy come in and not stop there. Just keep going forward without any drop-off," Johnson said of the numerous weapons in the backfield. "So it is a really great feeling to have, like one freshman go in and they do their thing, and then you have Wes, Kenny and Trey go in and do their thing and just keep rotating like clockwork. You want to be there for those guys, Lo Lo, Perry (Hills) running and throwing the ball. That's a guy you want to play for."
Who knows where the position will go from here, as even freshman Jake Funk notched 33 yards on six carries Saturday night and is another hard runner. Not to mention Harrison, who added 78 yards and a score, that of the 62-yard variety in the second quarter where he flashed his feet and wheels yet again as another surprise rookie star on a team that has already burned 15 shirts in four games.
"It feels good, but I am not content," Johnson said. "I want to keep going and keep grinding out and get more and more. Not be greedy with it....as I want to do this for the team. The ultimate comes down to me contributing to the team anyway possible."
On his two scoring runs Johnson shined more subtly, too, showing that new patience following his leads. One of the things he most noted was his patience on the first scoring run last night, as in the spring, his running backs coach Anthony Tucker told him he probably would have run into someone's back instead, lacking the patience to allow things to time up. Tucker told him Saturday night when he got to the sideline that "my patience has come so far."
"With Coach Tuck, he has been a great coach for me with how to be patient with my feet, and accelerate when i need to when I see the hole. He has done everything possible to help me with my patience," Johnson said.
"But the O-line was doing their thing, I saw their blocks, read the progression reads Coach Tuck has told us running backs to do, and hit it full throttle."
The Terps kept Purdue off balance all night with Walt Bell's mixed run game scheme, and the Terps receivers had their best game blocking downfield. There were some huge gaps, with Maryland's up-tempo and mis-direction and shovel passes keeping Purdue out of position and misaligned much of the night.
"Just speed and tempo, making them not know where we were going, getting lined up fast and snap the ball before they could get in their position," Johnson said of the strategy. "It was just all preparation. We were like, 'okay we can hit this this and this between this and this and this and execute and go for the win.’ Coach Bell said our running backs are going to have be able to do this, and we said, 'hey bring it on. W we are going to do it for you.’ It's like say jump, and how high? But being able to have that reputation and keep going at it, keep going at it, it pays off."
Johnson said he was further boosted by the Terps defense against Purdue, which smothered the Boilermakers with just 10 yards rushing the ball. And each time the Terps turned it over in a sudden-change instance, the defense would rise up and get it back with three-and-outs and stands.
"It's a great turnaround going into first B1G Ten game (with a win), and I commend the defense a lot," Johnson said. "We came out at halftime and I saw the stats on the board and we had held them to 66 yards. And that's why i love running against our defense in practice because it's hard to get by them. And when I get by them, well that's a big play in practice. So if it's gonna hit (there), it's like you got it."
Said Morgan, who had two rushes for 16 yards and five catches for 46 yards and two scores and continues to emerge as a top playmaker:
"The run game, it was Coach Bell's game plan and we went out there and there and executed his game plan and it seemed to work out real well. We got good blocking, and we just had to find the gap and take it and our backs did. Ty, well he did that all night executing like that. I know the receivers did a good job of blocking, but he just saw the hole and hit it like that. I can't find any critique of his game."