Early in the second quarter on Saturday, Perry Hills handed the ball off to Lorenzo Harrison, who had wide open space in front of him. The freshman running back burst through the hole, not stopping until he made it to the end zone 62 yards later.
It was Harrison’s fourth straight game with a touchdown, and he has been part of a running game that has helped Maryland get off to a 4-0 start. The Terps ran for a season high 400 yards in a 50-7 rout of Purdue Saturday, and now rank seventh in the FBS in rushing with 300 yards a game.
“We know from our side of the ball what’s really tough to defend,” head coach D.J. Durkin said. “Those are good conversations we’ve had with our offense, what’s working and what’s tough to stop.”
Part of the reason for the Terps’ success on the ground has been their depth at running back. Maryland currently rotates four players in the backfield, which gives the backs a chance to keep their legs fresh in offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s up-tempo offense.
“It helps a lot, it’s like a full head of steam to have a guy come out and another guy come in and keep going forward without any drop off. It keeps rotating like clockwork,” sophomore running back Ty Johnson said.
Johnson showed his playmaking ability after running for 43 and 44 yard touchdowns on his only touches against Rutgers last season and was the star on Saturday. His 204 rushing yards came on just seven carries, three of which went for more than 40 yards.
But Johnson isn’t the only threat in the Terps backfield. Harrison has provided a boost as well, and with a touchdown Saturday became the first freshman in Maryland history to score a rushing touchdown in each of his first four games.
“[Harrison] is a really unique talent, I think he’s a great football player,” Durkin said “He can run you over, he can make you miss and he can hit the big one. He’s a tough guy to tackle, we learned that really early on our own defense.”
The rookie head coach attributed Harrison’s early success to his composure and maturity.
“He never has that freshman look about him,” Durkin said. “Some guys you’re just trying to get to the next thing. We have several guys in our freshman class who are like, okay, I’ve got this.”
Durkin also isn’t afraid to think outside the box, and had wide receiver Teldrick Morgan come in the backfield for some jet sweeps. For Morgan it’s not anything different. He said after the game he had a similar role at New Mexico State.
But for Maryland football, it’s just another example of what Durkin wants to see, that players are looking to contribute in any phase of the game.
“If you have an assignment, you just go out and do it, you don’t make any excuses about it,” Morgan said.
Senior Trey Edmunds and freshman Jake Funk have also seen time at running back, and the position got even deeper this week when senior Wes Brown returned following a three game suspension. Brown had five carries for a paltry two yards, but Durkin expects him to be a part of the rotation going forward.
On some teams, having this many guys competing at one position can be a source of friction. But according to Johnson, this isn’t the case at Maryland.
“We compete a lot during practice, and I think that’s a great secret between us. Even we compete with each other we want what’s best for one another.”
Photo by Lauren Anikis