Walk-On Running Back Paul James Impresses in First Start for Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Sometimes in college football you have to go with the hot hand. Or, in Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood’s case, you go with the hot legs at running back and that is exactly what he did. After watching Paul James rush for 182 yards on 22 carries (8.3 YPC) against Fresno State last week Flood decided to name James the starter against the Week 2 matchup against Norfolk St. James got the start ahead of former five-star recruit Savon Huggins and did not disappoint.
James, a walk-on from Glassboro, NJ, was able to capitalize against Fresno St. where Huggins was not. Huggins carried the ball five times and gained only 22 yards. Huggins was expected to take over as the primary running back after Jawan Jamison moved on to the NFL. However, sometimes plans change and Flood is changing things up in order to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Gary Nova.
James only rushed 18 times but gained 119 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns against Norfolk St. It wasn’t an all-world performance but it should be enough for him to hold onto the starting job next week even though Huggins had 21 carries for 96 yards and a score.
If Huggins can find the form that led him to be highly touted out of high school then the Rutgers Scarlet Knights might have one of the best running back tandems in college football. Of course, the onus is on Huggins to live up to that hype. Last season, Huggins gained 410 yards on 119 carries, a pedestrian 3.4 average and his career long run is only 31 yards. James already has a 65-yard run under his belt which came last week and looks like a much more dynamic runner.
Rutgers could really benefit from having Huggins and James forming a dynamic tandem with a quarterback who is still learning to play the position at this level. If this game was a wakeup call for Huggins it comes at a good time. Rutgers will play Eastern Michigan next week before taking on more accomplished opponents like Arkansas, Southern Methodist and Louisville.
For now, James looks like the real deal and should hold onto his starting job but coach Flood did the right thing by continuing to feed Huggins and keeping him involved. However, moving forward this should be James’ job to lose.