Johnson excels in season opener against Buffalo

The sophomore wide receiver matched his season total in yards and touchdowns from last year in one game.

Wide receiver Tyler Johnson readies for the next snap on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. The Gophers beat Buffalo 17 to 7.

Ellen Schmidt

Wide receiver Tyler Johnson readies for the next snap on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. The Gophers beat Buffalo 17 to 7.

Drew Cove

It didn’t take long for wide receiver Tyler Johnson to make an impact in his second season with the Gophers.

The sophomore had 141 yards — matching his yards from all last season — and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 17-7 win over Buffalo Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

“The game plan of the week just helped me realize how the defense would be playing,” Johnson said. “I just felt very confident out there.”

While Johnson only started in one game for Minnesota a season ago, he played in every game for the Gophers in 2016.

The Minneapolis native was one of the players the Gophers counted on for this season.

Johnson also only scored one touchdown his freshman season, and again, he was quick to match that this season.

In only the second possession of the game for Minnesota, quarterback Conor Rhoda made a throw over the middle to a leaping Johnson, who reeled it in and took it 61 yards for the touchdown.

“The kid comes to play when the lights are on, first and foremost,” Rhoda said. “He’s not the fastest guy in the world, he’s not the tallest guy in the world. … He comes to work every day, and he’s gotten a ton better since he first got here.”

Rhoda and Johnson went on another drive together, and while it ended in an interception from Rhoda in the end zone, Johnson made plays to help the team move down the field.

Johnson made four of his six first half receptions in that Gophers’ drive midway through the second quarter, and each of his catches were for first downs, with no catch being for less than 14 yards.

Last season, Johnson also had the same trend in the first game of the season, with all three of his receptions against Oregon State being for first downs.

While Johnson picked up more receptions this game, he was quick to attribute it to training camp.

“Obviously, I’ve improved a lot,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to give credit to my wide receivers coach, coach [Matt] Simon, he’s hard on me every day at practice, making sure I do everything at the highest level that it could be.”

The 61-yard touchdown pass was the longest Johnson has caught in his time with the Gophers. It eclipsed his previous single-pass high of 34 yards, which came in the game against Rutgers last season.

Johnson came into the season as one of the program’s top returning receivers, and has a chance this season to become the top target for both Rhoda and quarterback Demry Croft.

“Tyler has continued to get better,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “I think he could start to see himself in that role. Now, he’s got to continue to get better because we need to make some more plays.”