James sidelined with injury to lower leg
Junior running back P.J. James, who at one point led the country in rushing yards, will miss at least two games with what Rutgers head football coach Kyle Flood described as a lower leg injury.
James sustained the injury in the Scarlet Knights’ 28-24 victory Saturday against Arkansas.
Flood said he would be out for the Knights’ road matchups with Southern Methodist on Oct. 5 and Oct. 10 against No. 7 Louisville. Rutgers (3-1) has a bye this week before its game with the Mustangs.
Though hesitant to say exactly when James will come back, Flood was optimistic he will return at some point this season, but will take a wait-and-see approach.
“Anything beyond [those two games], I think there’s no definite there either,” Flood said, “But that’s where I think we have to reevaluate it.”
James went down twice against the Razorbacks (3-1), the first of which occurred in the third quarter after a nine-yard run. James lay on the High Point Solutions Stadium turf for a couple minutes, but walked off the field under his own power.
James returned in the fourth quarter, but went down again with a non-contact injury and did not return to the game.
During his teleconference yesterday, Flood would not elaborate on what type of injury James sustained, but believed it was not an issue to put the Glassboro, N.J. native back into the game after he was first removed.
“Paul went out of the game and the medical staff has a protocol for what they do on the sideline for any type of injury before they’ll put a player back in the game,” Flood said. “Then they tell me if they’re ready to go and I put them back in.”
James finished with 17 carries for 80 yards and received most of the Knights’ carries.
With James sidelined for at least three weeks, junior Savon Huggins moved back up the depth chart as the feature back.
Huggins finished with nine carries for 21 yards, which included seven rushes after James left. He picked up a crucial first down on an 11-yard carry, which allowed Rutgers to run out the clock.
Freshman Justin Goodwin also saw action Saturday with one carry for no gain.
Flood also said redshirt freshman running back Desmon Peoples will get an opportunity to receive carries.
Those three will have the task of replacing James, who has 573 yards rushing in four games.
“It is absolutely a next man up mentality on our football team,” Flood said. “Now we have other players that will get an opportunity to play.”
Tyler Kroft had the most productive receiving day of his career, as the sophomore tight end recorded six catches for 133 yards and a score.
The touchdown occurred at the end of the second quarter. Down 10-0 with 39 seconds left in the period, junior quarterback Gary Nova found Kroft in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard score. It was Kroft’s second-career touchdown.
“We kind of had a double move off the MIKE [linebacker], so I ran my route at the MIKE and got him to basically break down,” Kroft said. “Once I saw him break down, I kind of swam over him. Gary put the ball high and I got over him and made the catch.”
Kroft now has 10 receptions for 179 yards in three games since he became the Knights’ starter.
Flood said Kroft needed to work on his blocking and has shown improvement in the area this season.
“Tyler has got great hands, and Tyler has built himself into a tight end that can play in the run game and that was the only thing he needed to do to get the opportunity to catch these types of passes,” Flood said.
Freshman cornerback Nadir Barnwell made his first-career start Saturday in place of redshirt freshman Ian Thomas.
Barnwell recorded eight tackles, including one for loss.
“I think Nadir had some really good plays and some plays where he’s going to be anxious to get back on the playing field and work on,” Flood said. “For a guy who played a lot more [Saturday] than he did in any previous game, I think it was a good learning experience for him and fortunately for us as a team, he gets to have that learning experience combined in a win.”
In the third quarter, Arkansas wide receiver Javontee Herndon beat Barnwell for a 17-yard touchdown, which gave the Razorbacks a 17-7 lead.
Barnwell said his teammates helped him not get discouraged after the mistake.
“They told me to just forget it and that was great defense,” Barnwell said. “The whole defense came up to me and supported me and made sure my head didn’t get down because they knew we had more game to play.”
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