STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Ticker) -- Larry Johnson needed just a half to become a member of the 2,000-yard club. Now will that be enough to get him the Heisman Trophy?
Needing 264 yards to become the ninth player in Division I-A history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season, Johnson gained 279 yards on 19 carries and scored four touchdowns before halftime as 16th-ranked Penn State rolled to a 61-7 rout of Michigan State.
Johnson was well on the way to eclipsing his own school record of 327 yards rushing set last week in a 58-25 victory over Indiana, but Penn State coach Joe Paterno showed mercy on the Spartans, resting his star running back for the entire second half after the Nittany Lions built a 48-0 lead in the Big Ten Conference finale for both schools.
The 6-2, 222-pound senior surpassed 2,000 yards on his final touchdown run, a 38-yard sweep down the left side with 2:38 left in the second quarter.
"I was just running. I was running in a straight line and I couldn't see too much and I didn't really realize until after I sat down that it happened," Johnson said. "This is great for the student body really to be behind you."
The sweep pushed his total to 2,015 yards on 251 carries, setting an NCAA record with an average of 8.0 yards per carry. The previous record of 7.8 yards per carry was set by Mike Rozier of Nebraska in 1983.
The Nittany Lions got the ball back with a minute left in the half, and Johnson ran onto the field with the rest of the offense, but then came back to the sideline and received a standing ovation in his final game at Beaver Stadium.
"I really didn't want to put him back in there later in the game and then take him out," Paterno said.
The sellout crowd adorned the stadium with banners that read "Larry Heisman" and "LJ for Heisman" and "No. 5 Has Arrived." They ended up witnessing history when Johnson moved into ninth place all-time.
"I think he's got to be one of the people you have to consder," Paterno said of Johnson's Heisman candidacy. "There can't be three or four players any more important to their football team than he is to this one."
Johnson's long run on Saturday was a 78-yard touchdown and he also scored on runs of 11, 11 and 38 yards.
"He's always had that ability," Paterno said. "He's much more mature as a person. If you had said to me, 'You got a tailback that will get 2000 yards in one year, I'd say, 'Yeah, come on.' I thought he'd be a heck of a tailback."
Barry Sanders holds the I-A single-season record with 2,628 yards in 1988 for Oklahoma State. Troy Davis accomplished the feat twice for Iowa State, in 1995 (2,010) and 1996 (2,185), but did not win the Heisman in either year.
The others who topped the 2,000-yard mark are Marcus Allen of Southern California (2,342 in 1981), LaDainian Tomlinson of Texas Christian (2,158 in 2000), Rozier (2,158 in 1983), Ricky Williams of Texas (2,124 in 1998), Byron Hanspard of Texas Tech (2,084 in 1996) and Rashaan Salaam of Colorado (2,055 in 1994). Tomlinson and Hanspard were the only ones not to win the Heisman.
"We've still got a lot of things to do and I've got a lot of things to do," Johnson said. "We've still got the bowl and stuff like that. Celebration is good, but the season isn't over."
Running back John Cappelletti is the only player from Penn State to win the Heisman Trophy, capturing college football's most coveted award in 1973.
Johnson averaged an astounding 232.7 yards in his last six games, including four with 250 or more yards, after averaging 104.8 in his first six games. He had 257 yards against Northwestern on October 19 and 279 yards against Illinois on November 2 before ending with 606 yards in the last two games.
Johnson had rushed for a total of 866 yards in his first three college seasons, playing third fiddle in a rotation with Eric McCoo and Omar Easy. He had 358 rushing yards as a sophomore and 337 last year - both losing seasons for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) won as many as nine games in a season for the 24th time in 37 years under Paterno and will play in a bowl game for the first time since 1999.
It was the most points allowed by Michigan State (4-8, 5-3) since a 63-0 loss to Michigan in 1922 and a fitting end to a turbulent season. The Spartans went 1-2 under interim coach Morris Watts after Bobby Williams was fired and starting quarterback Jeff Smoker was suspended and entered a substance abuse program.
"This game just slipped away and we basically felt hopeless the entire season," receiver Charles Rogers said. "I give credit to my guys for playing through the transactions. We can mature and get better for next year."
Regarded as a Big Ten contender at the start of the year, the Spartans dropped six of their last seven games.
Built like a linebacker, Johnson ran over and around Michigan State defenders with ease. On Penn State's first two possessions, Johnson produced 77 yards on five carries, including runs of 41 and 20 yards before an 11-yard touchdown up the middle in which he carried safety Jason Harmon for the final four yards into the end zone with 10:19 left in the first quarter.
After Michigan State went three-and-out, Johnson rushed five times for 43 yards before Zack Mills scored on a five-yard quarterback draw with 5:59 remaining in the quarter.
Johnson finished the quarter with 117 yards on 11 carries.
Penn State erupted for 34 points in the second quarter.
"Anytime you play a team that gets on a role it can get out of hand," Watts said. "We are not able to change the momentum of the game."
Bryant Johnson started it with an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown 1:34 into the quarter and caught a 41-yard touchdown pass 2:46 later to increase the lead to 28-0.
After Michigan State's Dave Rayner missed his second field goal attempt of the day - a 39-yarder that sailed wide left - Johnson broke off his 78-yard touchdown run with 8:15 left in the half.
Blending his speed, power and vision, Johnson took a pitch from Mills, bounced off tacklers on the right side and then cut back across the field and sprinted into the end zone. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving Penn State with a 34-0 lead.
Johnson's brother, junior receiver Tony Johnson, also got into the act on Penn State's next scoring drive. After Larry rushed twice for 20 yards, Tony caught a 19-yard pass from Mills to the Michigan State 21. Following a 10-yard holding penalty on the Spartans, Johnson rushed up the middle for another 11-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 41-0 with 5:16 remaining.
Larry Johnson capped off his performance with a 38-yard touchdown run with 2:38 left in the half. When he ran to the sideline, Johnson hugged his father, Larry, who is the Nittany Lions' defensive line coach.
Michigan State was spared from having to stop Johnson in the second half and scored its only points on a nine-yard touchdown run by Jaren Hayes with 9:38 left in the third quarter. Hayes had 114 yards on 23 carries.
Sean McHugh scored on a two-yard run with 1:35 remaining in the third quarter and Michael Robinson added a two-yard touchdown run with 8:15 left in the fourth quarter for Penn State.
Rogers caught five passes for 64 yards and broke his own school record with 68 receptions, one more than his total last season.