With just over one minute to go in a tie game, Maryland junior running back Ty Johnson took a handoff at the Minnesota 34-yard line, spotted a hole and raced through it past defenders for the game-winning touchdown.
This is the exact type of rush Ohio State will attempt to prevent Saturday when the Buckeyes face off with the Terrapins at Ohio Stadium.
This season, Johnson has 46 carries for 411 yards, an average of 8.93 yards per carry, which ranks him No. 4 in the FBS. A big-play threat, Johnson has gained at least 34 yards on a carry five times in his team’s four games this year, including a 74-yard touchdown in Week 2 against Towson.
“He’s got great acceleration, he really can go,” Ohio State linebackers coach Bill Davis said. “When he gets going, he’s got great acceleration and he’s got good vision and patience. He’s a good back.”
Johnson rushed onto the scene as a freshman when he averaged 7.1 yards on 35 carries. The 5-foot-10, 208-pound running back followed up his debut last season with 110 carries for 1,004 yards, an average of 9.1 yards per carry, the most by a Terrapins player in a season with at least 100 rushes. Prior to this year, Johnson was placed on the Doak Walker Award watch list.
“He’s a real good back,” senior defensive end Jalyn Holmes said. “He’s got a big heart, man. He plays a lot bigger than what he actually is, so we’ve got to be ready for him.”
Johnson is tied with sophomore running back Lorenzo Harrison III with a team-high 46 carries, but Johnson averages twice as many yards per carry as Harrison.
The Buckeyes defense has not given up many long runs this year. The only 34-plus yard rushes came against the second-team defense in the third quarter of blowouts of UNLV and Army, both of whom are top 10 rushing offenses in the FBS. In the season opener, Indiana averaged 0.6 yards per carry without a rush over nine yards and the next week, Oklahoma averaged 2.8 yards per carry and did not run for a gain of more than 13 yards.
In order for the success against the run to continue, Ohio State understands it must play disciplined as Johnson and Harrison are apt to bounce plays to the outside if they do not see holes in the middle.
“They bounce it out, they run around, they don’t even hit their hole, they sometimes bounce it out and those are fast guys and we’re just going to have to contain them,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle said.
Davis and defensive line coach Larry Johnson emphasized defenders at all levels of the defense must maintain their gap responsibility and not over-pursue, noting it would be the key to victory.
“I think the two running backs are dynamic,” Larry said. “I think they’ve both got great vision. They can cut on a dime.”
Johnson’s speed is even more important now than in the first couple weeks of the season due to Maryland’s struggle to keep quarterbacks healthy. The Terrapins are down to third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager as Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill suffered season-ending torn ACLs. Therefore, they will likely rely heavily on their run game to produce scoring drives and churn the clock against Ohio State.
A unit featuring five players who are at least 6-foot-3 and weigh more than 300 pounds will pave the way for Johnson. Though the Terrapins do not have a single senior on their offensive line, all linemen are in their second seasons as starters. Redshirt junior right tackle Damian Prince, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 315 pounds, leads the line as this is his third season as a starter.
“It’s going to be a good test for us,” Holmes said. “They have a great offensive line. They’ve got a great running back.”