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With Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson, Maryland football’s offense has a bright future

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Two of Maryland’s youngest running backs are also their best.

Jasen Vinlove, Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the season, Maryland football’s backfield depth seemed to be one of its biggest strengths. But looking back now, that almost seems irrelevant.

While the team had as many as six running backs ready to contribute this season, freshman Lorenzo Harrison and sophomore Ty Johnson are starting to take over.

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles
(Lost)
Lorenzo Harrison RB 5'8, 193 FR 65 502 5 7.7 9.5 44.6% 1 (1)
Ty Johnson RB 5'10, 205 SO 47 482 3 10.3 14.0 46.8% 0 (0)
Tyrrell Pigrome QB 5'11, 196 FR 45 221 3 4.9 4.5 46.7% 3 (1)
Perry Hills QB 6'2, 213 SR 36 247 2 6.9 4.2 58.3% 2 (2)
Trey Edmunds RB 6'2, 223 SR 26 158 1 6.1 4.9 50.0% 0 (0)
Kenneth Goins Jr. RB 5'9, 233 SR 20 136 3 6.8 5.9 50.0% 0 (0)
Jake Funk RB 5'11, 207 FR 17 91 1 5.4 6.4 35.3% 0 (0)
Wes Brown RB 6'0, 217 SR 5 2 0 0.4 0.0 0.0% 0 (0)
Teldrick Morgan WR 6'0, 190 SR 4 40 0 10.0 8.8 75.0% 0 (0)

A couple things contributed to this concentration of Maryland’s carries. First, senior Trey Edmunds suffered a foot injury that’ll keep him out for a few weeks. He was averaging 6.1 yards per carry when he went down, but only ran the ball a combined five times in the two games before his injury. Second, Wes Brown has been a non-factor since his return from suspension in Week 5. He’s only carried the ball five times for two yards in four games since he’s been back.

It’s been the Harrison and Johnson show, and it’s easy to see why.

These two can get Maryland out of tough situations, like Harrison did here on this third-and-20 against Minnesota (which was called back for holding, but still).

Harrison, a three-star recruit out of DeMatha Catholic High School just down the street from Maryland’s campus, made his presence felt immediately when coaches saw him in practice this August.

“Is it a surprise? Yeah, just because we had so much older depth,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell told reporters Wednesday. “After about practice eight or nine of fall camp, after we had that second ‘tackle-to-the-ground’ day and nobody could tackle him, we could kind of see this coming. It was just from then, ‘How fast can we get him to contribute at a high level?’”

It didn’t take long.

Harrison had 17 carries against Michigan State last week, a career-high. He was Maryland’s workhorse, while Johnson came in and provided the big plays the team desperately needed. So far, Maryland’s offense has gone as far as these two have.

In retrospect, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Here’s Harrison in high school, ripping off an incredible run that got him on SportsCenter.

Before the season, Bell and head coach DJ Durkin both said all of the team’s running backs would be involved. At the beginning of the season, that was true. But even then, senior Wes Brown was out with a suspension. He figured to have a big role when he came back to the team. In the four games since he returned, Brown has five carries for two yards. This doesn’t mean the impact if the team needs another back, but right now, it doesn’t.

Dashes of 40-plus yards have become commonplace from Johnson. Against Michigan State, he gained 84 of his game-high 115 yards on two plays. While Harrison’s best skill is his ability to make people miss, Johnson’s more of a burner.

“He’s one of those few guys that we have on the team where if he puts his foot in the ground and runs linear, very rarely is he going to get caught,” Bell said.

“To me, there’s three speeds: too slow, fast enough and real fast. Lorenzo is fast enough.”

Johnson, meanwhile, fits into that “real fast” category. He didn’t get much to do last year in a backfield that comfortably belonged to Brandon Ross and Brown (before he was suspended). He’s slid into the spotlight this year. While Harrison has the most carries, Johnson leads the team in yards per carry at 10.3, a mark that ranks second in the nation.

“Ty has made huge improvements as an inside-zone runner,” Bell said. “A lot of the big runs he’s had have actually been B-gap to B-gap. He’s really really improved there, but those guys who can run typically don’t have great patience.”

B-gap to B-gap means Johnson isn’t just using his speed to turn everything into a dash to the sideline. He’s waiting and hitting the hole between the tackles, which has given him a lot of green space to work with once he gets past the line.

“I think it makes it harder for the coaches to bring them out,” fellow running back Goins said. “Of course, when they get tired or break off a long run, we’re there to help them get their legs back.”

Even if each running back starts to hit the wall later in the season, Maryland figures to have enough backs to increase the rotation and keep things fresh. This is happening while Maryland has to plan for the future.

In Durkin’s dream scenario, four-star DeMatha running back Anthony McFarland Jr. joins this backfield for the 2017 season. McFarland’s one of the best running back recruits in the nation, and Maryland would certainly be lucky to have him. But even if McFarland heads to another school, having Harrison and Johnson should keep Maryland’s backfield loaded for years to come.