Huggins readies for increase in carries
Junior running back Savon Huggins is well aware of the famed “Pony Express” Southern Methodist once possessed in its backfield.
“Everyone has seen the SMU special with Craig James and Eric Dickerson,” Huggins said, referring to the ESPN 30 for 30 series documentary titled “The Pony Express.” “Any running back knows something about that, so they do have a long line of history at the school.”
James and Dickerson combined for one of the best running back duos in college football history, leading undefeated SMU in 1982 to the Cotton Bowl.
While this year’s Mustangs (1-3) offense favors the pass more than running, the Rutgers football team (3-1) will do its best to mimic SMU’s 1980s backfield production with Huggins and freshman Justin Goodwin.
Playing in their first game without sophomore running back Paul James, who sustained a lower leg injury Sept. 24 against Arkansas, the Scarlet Knights will put the majority of carries in the hands of Huggins and Goodwin, who have a combined 182 yards on 47 carries this season.
Head coach Kyle Flood also said redshirt freshman running back Desmon Peoples could see some time and even expects junior fullback Michael Burton to receive some carries too.
Whatever combination Flood and offensive coordinator Ron Prince settle on will have to replicate nearly 145 yards of rushing offense the Knights’ offense accumulated with James healthy. In their first four games this season, James touted the rock 78 times for 573 yards and six touchdowns.
“Savon will take the first series, Justin Goodwin will take the second series and we’ll go from there,” Flood said yesterday. “But I do anticipate seeing all three running backs in the game. … So we have some good options and some talented runners, and we’re fortunate enough to have them, so we’ll utilize them the best we can.”
If the running game does not establish itself early against SMU’s run defense, which ranks 51st in the country, expect Rutgers to put most of its trust in Gary Nova and the passing game.
The junior quarterback tossed three touchdowns against the Razorbacks, including two in the fourth quarter to sophomore wide receiver Leonte Carroo to complete a 28-24 come-from-behind victory Sept. 21 at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Nova’s faces Garret Gilbert, who quarterbacks an SMU offense that passes more than two times more than it runs. Gilbert ranks second nationally in completions per game with 34 and eighth in passing yards with 322.8 per contest.
So if it turns into a shootout between veteran signal callers, Nova believes he can handle it.
“We just have to try and execute the game plan and if it turns out to be that kind of game, then I’ll be more than ready for it,” Nova said.
But when the offense takes the field for the first time Saturday, all eyes will be on the backfield as Rutgers begins to move on for the time being without its leading rusher.
Huggins will be the first man up to attempt to mimic the production.
With everything he has been through this season, he thinks he is ready for the challenge.
“I’m very excited. It’s just crazy how everything has been but everything happens for a reason,” Huggins said. “I just continue to work and get better and that’s basically it. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Knight Note: Flood said sophomore kicker Kyle Federico will start Saturday after competing with sophomore kicker Nick Borgese during the past two weeks for the starting position.
Federico has struggled this season, going 4-for-8 on field goal attempts. Flood pulled him against Arkansas in favor of Borgese after Arkansas partially blocked his first attempt from 32 yards.
Flood said earlier this week he will bring in senior punter Nick Marsh for long field goal attempts.
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.