Even before last Saturday’s game against Michigan State, this has not been the easiest of seasons for Maryland running back Ty Johnson.
There was the tragic death of teammate Jordan McNair in mid-June. There was third-year coach DJ Durkin being placed on administrative leave in August, and fired last week.
On the field, there has been no middle ground for Johnson.
The senior added to his already impressive resume this season with three games with more than 100 rushing yards, including a career-long 81-yard touchdown run against Minnesota.
There was also his second career kickoff return for a touchdown, a 100-yard sprint down the sideline that briefly gave the Terps the lead at Michigan.
But there have been five games in which he was barely a factor, rushing for 30 yards or fewer. Johnson didn’t get a single carry in the first half at Iowa.
Yet as bad as some of those games have been, the most difficult one for Johnson came in last week’s 24-3 home loss to the Spartans, when he sat out with a calf injury.
“It was horrible. It was like, ‘Man, what am I doing?’ ” Johnson recalled Tuesday night after practice. “I hated it, you know, but it was just a decision between [interim] coach [Matt Canada], trainers and myself.”
Johnson, whose availability Saturday will be a game-time decision, acknowledged that he learned something from watching from the sideline Saturday at Maryland Stadium. Johnson could summarize the team’s offensive struggles in one word.
“Execution,” he said. “Last week against Michigan State, there was a lot of times that I was on the sideline, there were a few things we didn’t execute well.
“Coach [Canada] pointed it out, obviously. When you take a step forward, you can’t take two steps back. That’s what happened, and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen this week.”
Johnson, the team’s second-leading rusher with 61 carries for 468 yards (7.7 per carry) and three touchdowns, said that he could tell from watching why the Terps were held to just 100 yards of offense.
Asked if he could see better from the sideline than he can from the field, Johnson said: “Of course. Being able to read tendencies better from the sideline than being on the field, you can see offense and defense from the sideline.”
Johnson credited Maryland’s defense with keeping the Terps in the game as long as they were.
Trailing 10-3 at halftime, Maryland fell behind 17-3 when the Spartans recovered their own fumble in the end zone.
Junior defensive end Byron Cowart returned an interception for an apparent 17-yard touchdown, but he was stripped of the ball in the end zone, where Michigan State recovered for a touchback. On first down from the 20-yard line, running back Connor Heyward raced 80 yards for a touchdown to ice the game.
“It’s just the offense has to take the responsibility of keeping [the opposition] off the field,” Johnson said. “When you have a defense that’s dominating, you can only dominate for so long before they get tired, and that’s when teams can take advantage of the other team, if the offense can’t get anything going.”
After missing a game because of injury for the first time in his career, Johnson was asked if it made him angrier, hungrier or simply more motivated.
”A little bit. You want to be out there and to be able to contribute at all times,” he said. “We definitely have the team to be able to go out there and win and everything. This week it’s just staying healthy, day-by-day, contribute as much as possible, whether it’s running the ball, passing [the ball to him] or special teams.”
NOTE: A team spokesman confirmed junior cornerback Marcus Lewis has left the team. Lewis, who transferred to Maryland from Florida State and sat out last season, had the same problem with the Terps as he had with the Seminoles. After starting the first three games, injuries and inconsistent performances led to the former four-star prospect to being replaced by senior Ra’Von Davis. Lewis did not play in four of the past six games. InsideMDSports was the first to report Lewis’ departure.