RU bowl eligibility hangs in balance
After the way the season has gone for the Rutgers football team, it is only fitting one of the Scarlet Knights’ (5-6, 2-5) best weapon’s status is unknown for their season finale.
Sophomore running back P.J. James went down with a lower leg injury in the first half Saturday in the Knights’ 28-17 loss to Connecticut.
While the injury is not as serious as the one that sidelined him four games earlier in the season, James was understandably shaken when he laid on the cold slippery surface of Renschler Field.
“It’s kind of like a panic at first,” James said. “After that, it was just figuring out what it was and figuring out what I could do from there on.”
James is listed questionable for Saturday night’s home contest against South Florida (2-9, 2-5) at a time when the Knights can use all the help they can in establishing a run game.
Junior Savon Huggins and freshman Justin Goodwin split time when James left the game late in the second quarter against the Huskies.
But both were ineffective, producing just 18 yards in the second half. Goodwin’s 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the lone bright spot for Rutgers’ running game.
James believes they both can combine to produce if he cannot go.
“Working with them through practice, I’ve seen them do it all year. They definitely can handle it,” James said. “They’re great backs. Even now I try to give them tips and help them out to expand their knowledge.
But Rutgers has a lot more to worry about than its rushing attack if it plans to make its third straight bowl game and avoid its first losing season since 2010.
The Knights’ defense might allow the most yards (currently at 4,721) in program history. They allowed 193 points in their past five games and will start senior quarterback Chas Dodd for the second straight week after he went 16-for-35 for 286 yards and two interceptions.
While the pressure to make a bowl is evident throughout the program, Flood believes the importance of winning has not been different from week’s past.
“We haven’t had a week this year where I haven’t felt urgency,” Flood said. “For us, it’s 12 one-game seasons. I tell the team the same thing I’ve said publicly. It’s not about week-to-week momentum in football. This is a different team than we’ve played.”
The biggest difference the Knights will face with the Bulls is their size along their defensive front seven.
South Florida’s top-three defensive tackles average 290 pounds, a unit that has helped produce the 29th-best rush defense in the country.
But South Florida produced just two wins so far, their last victory occurring Oct. 12 against Connecticut.
While some may see the Bulls’ chance to prevent Rutgers from a bowl birth as motivation for a team whose season will end Saturday, James does not see it that way.
“I don’t really think it’s an advantage [to them]. I think we have the advantage because we’re fighting for everything,” James said. “They have nothing to fight for. When you’re down and you’re not fighting for anything, you don’t really have that urge and burn. We’re fighting, so we have that burn and are going to want it more than they do.”
The Knights have yet to show that kind of attitude on the field in their past three losses.
A potential loss to lowly South Florida to end a disappointing season for Rutgers could change things.
“I think the energy level is still up,” said junior outside linebacker Kevin Snyder. “It’s a backs against the wall scenario. You have to have energy and have to have the fight to try and win with your backs against the wall and fight out of it and fight for a win.”