MADISON, Wisconsin — Maryland football running back Ty Johnson devoted extra time in the offseason to improving the precision of his passing routes.

As part of a speedy tailback tandem with Lorenzo Harrison, Johnson hoped to build on a 2016 campaign in which the Terps backfield made 43 catches. He said additional short screen passes could help the two of them find space when opposing defenses geared up for the run.

But Maryland’s rushing backs hauled in just five passes through the first six games this year, rendering Johnson’s summer training meaningless. Without an effective check-down game, Johnson and Harrison were also less productive on the ground — their combined yards per carry dropped to 5.43, from 8.27 in 2016.

Early in their 38-13 loss to No. 5 Wisconsin, though, the Terps leaned on designed screen passes to their running backs, something coach DJ Durkin said was part of the game plan against an athletic Badgers front seven. After the game, the team expressed its willingness to build on that offensive strategy moving forward.

“I definitely think [we’ll use that],” Johnson said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to get yards and make plays, so that’ll play a part.”

Quarterback Max Bortenschlager connected with his running backs three times on Maryland’s first two possessions; he would’ve had a fourth if an off-ball penalty hadn’t negated a six-yard completion to Johnson on the left sideline. Harrison finished with four catches for 21 yards, both season highs for a Terps tailback.

“We thought we could use them in the screen game,” Bortenschlager said. “It worked a couple of times, so it was good.”

Johnson said the early screens helped spread out the Badgers defense, opening up running lanes. As a result, Maryland’s backfield enjoyed its best game in three weeks, gaining 143 yards.

While Johnson didn’t break off any of the 30-plus-yard runs he reliably delivered last year, when he led the country in yards per carry, he said he’s primed to make those kind of plays in the coming weeks.

“The past few games have been dirty yards,” Johnson said. “The big ones will come eventually. I’ve just got to keep … making the right reads and go from there.”

Maryland carried a negative postgame mood following its third blowout loss in as many weeks. Linebacker Jermaine Carter said players weren’t looking for “pats on the back” or considering positives from the defeat. Durkin seemed exasperated as he listed the simple mistakes — such as third down struggles on both sides of the ball — his team made Saturday.

Still, the Terps’ backfield, helped by the screen game, showed flashes of what it’s capable of against the fourth-ranked run defense in the nation.

“They’re an explosive offense,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “[Johnson] will hit it up in there, and we were impressed coming into the game with their offensive line.”