RB embraces added role in RU backfield
When sophomore running back P.J. James found out he was would miss the Rutgers football team’s next two games, Savon Huggins understood his pain.
“I told him I’m here for him,” the junior running back said. “I’ve been through it, so I already know how it feels to be in that situation. It definitely hurt me too, because I’ve been through something similar.”
Huggins has had his fair share of injuries during his career with the Scarlet Knights, including a knee problem that sidelined him for three games his freshman season.
But that is all in the past as the Knights face the task of replacing the production of the second-leading rusher in the country.
James has rushed for 573 yards on the ground in Rutgers’ first four games, including 80 yards on 17 carries Saturday against Arkansas.
The ability to be effective in the run game is now less certain, although head coach Kyle Flood said backfield production has never been up to a single player.
“I don’t think it’s ever about just one person, although I do think P.J. did a great job,” Flood said. “I thought he did an excellent job running the football but I think we’ve got other talented guys at that position and we cannot change philosophically what we do, and as those players get opportunities to run the ball and earn carries, they’ll get more.”
Those opportunities fall on three backs for now. Flood said Huggins, redshirt freshman Desmon Peoples and freshman Justin Goodwin will get extensive looks during the Knights’ bye week.
Of the three, Huggins is the obvious choice to become the feature back for the time being.
The Jackson, N.J., native has 138 yards rushing on 40 attempts this season, including a 96-yard performance Sept. 7 against Norfolk State.
After the Razorbacks took their last timeout down four points with 2:31 left in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Ron Prince put the ball in Huggins’ hands on four straight plays. The first, an 11-yard run up the middle, proved to be the game clincher as the Knights were able to run out the clock.
With uncertainty if James will ever return in the back of Huggins’ head, he knew it was a moment for him to show the team he can get it done when it matters.
“It just felt good to close out the game and to let the coaches know they can rely on me,” Huggins said. “That’s basically it and what it comes down to. Can they trust you? Can they trust you with the ball in your hands? And I think I did a good job with that towards the end of the game.”
Though Huggins is the most experienced, he was pulled in the first quarter Aug. 27 at Fresno State, as he was unable to get the running game going early on. Huggins produced five yards on four carries before James was inserted in the second quarter.
Huggins’ inconsistencies will allow Goodwin and Peoples to both receive a long look before Flood makes any decisions on who starts Oct. 5 at Southern Methodist.
And between the three of them, they will have to replace nearly 145 rushing yards per game.
“I feel like we can do it. It’s just a matter of who coach wants in the game,” Peoples said. “I’m sure if we all had the opportunity, we could perform.”
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