Ahead of Big Ten play, Maryland needs its RBs more than ever

Maryland football

By: Max Marcilla

Entering the 2017 season, the Maryland Terrapins’ explosive running back duo of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison was expected to be one of the team’s best units.

Now, just three games into the season, it must be the unit that will save the Terrapin offense.

After two starting quarterbacks suffered torn ACLs — Tyrrell Pigrome in Week 1 and Kasim Hill in Week 4 — the Terps will rely on their ground attack to keep their offense functioning. The duo combined for 334 rushing yards in the first two games, but was limited to just 73 in the loss to UCF. It saw its yards per carry drop from a remarkable 9.7 to under 3.5.

Johnson and Harrison’s next task won’t be easy: a Minnesota Golden Gophers defense that has allowed 59 rushing yards per game, the fewest in the Big Ten.

“When you watch the film, they play really hard,” head coach DJ Durkin said of Minnesota. “They’re a great effort group. That’s, to me, the highest compliment you can give a team when you watch them.”

Minnesota held Oregon State’s Ryan Nall to just 31 yards on seven carries in their lone win against a Power 5 team.

While the focus of the Golden Gophers’ game plan may be limiting Maryland’s rushing attack and forcing sophomore Max Bortenschlager to beat them with his arm, Harrison does not feel there will be any additional pressure Saturday.

“A lot is expected from us already so we already know what we have to do,” Harrison said. “I don’t think there’s any added pressure, [we’re] just going to do what we’ve been doing.”

Harrison was one of the few bright spots for Maryland against UCF, finishing with a season-high 4.8 yards per carry. He also performed well last year against Minnesota, racking up 33 rushing yards on just four carries including a 21-yard dash.

“[Harrison is] a guy you love blocking for because you never know what he’s going to do,” center Brendan Moore said. “Running down the field, the play’s never over when he has the ball.”

Maryland will need to rely even more on its running backs because of a potential alteration in the offensive gameplan — Bortenschlager is not nearly as mobile as Pigrome or Hill.

“I think our offense can operate just fine with Max there,” Durkin said. “I think we’ve shown that and proven that before. There’s tweaks and things you major in or tailor to who the personnel is. We’ll certainly do that with that in mind with Max.”

Bortenschlager has gained a net of 16 rushing yards on 20 carries and is the only player on Maryland’s roster with a yards per carry average below 4.3. He has made a few positive plays on the ground, but also struggled to elude pressure, and was sacked five times, resulting in 40 yards of losses.

The big-play ability of Maryland running backs was a large part of the team’s 2-0 start to the season, and something the unit will need to provide if the Terps want to steal a road win in their Big Ten opener.

Through the first two weeks, Maryland scored six touchdowns on rushes of at least 20 yards, but against UCF, they didn’t have a single run for over 15 yards.

“Ty’s known for breaking long runs and that’s something he’s going to do and something he’s going to continue to do,” Harrison said. “He just pushes me.”