James carries torrid scoring streak into PSU game
If there’s any question of how much Paul James means to the Rutgers football team, consider this: The junior running back is on pace to set a school record with 39 touchdowns this season, and that’s if the Scarlet Knights don’t reach a bowl game.
James’ six total scores through two games lead the nation, and dating back to last season, he has 15 touchdowns in only 11 appearances.
Once an unknown walk-on vying for snaps behind then-junior running back Savon Huggins in 2013 training camp, James is now one of the hottest players in the country.
“I don’t really call it a hot streak,” James said. “I’m just doing what I work on doing in practice. In practice I push myself to get the opportunities to do this, so now it’s just coming.”
Still, his explosion onto the scene over the last 12 months has certainly raised eyebrows.
After redshirting his true freshman year, James received just five carries in two games in 2012. Because of nagging injuries in high school, it was hard for schools to gauge the Glassboro, New Jersey, native’s potential, and his options were limited.
James ultimately walked onto Rutgers in 2011, and this past year he finally earned a scholarship.
“Had he been healthy his senior year [of high school], I have to believe he would have been more highly coveted coming out of high school, because he didn’t just get talented when he got here,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “But being here, he dealt with some little dings in the beginning part of his career and when he was finally able to get to be 100 percent, then we got a chance to see really what kind of running back he could be, and ever since getting that opportunity, he’s never let go of it.”
The 6-foot, 205-pounder’s effectiveness on the ground this week will likely go a long way in determining if Rutgers starts its first Big Ten campaign with a win against Penn State.
Going against the nation’s fourth-ranked run defense, the yards certainly won’t come with ease.
“We need to stay consistent with what we do,” senior fullback Michael Burton said of run-blocking. “We’ve had three great practices and we still have half the week to prepare for it. They’re obviously a tough, physical defense, but at the same time, as long as we’re consistent and do what we need to do and focus on our detail, we’ll be fine.”
And with a light non-conference schedule thus far, the Nittany Lions haven’t seen a running back of James’ caliber, either.
As long as James is healthy enough to see the field, he remains perhaps Rutgers’ most indispensible asset.
“He just runs with a lot of passion, a downhill guy who’ll get people over, gets those tough yards,” said senior quarterback Gary Nova. “And his versatility — I think he showed that this week in the passing game by being able to catch the ball, and I think people don’t understand how fast he really is. I think he’s kind of got that surprising speed.”
Flood said yesterday post-practice the Knights will be ready for any wildcat plays Penn State runs this Saturday.
In order to spark a stagnant run game last Saturday against Akron, the Lions employed a variety of direct snaps to their top-three running backs. It generated almost 80 rushing yards in the final quarter.
The wrinkle hasn’t been common in Penn State’s pro-style offense over the years, but Flood said the Knights are prepared if Lions head coach James Franklin goes that direction again.
“We have a package for it like we do with anything else. It’s not unique or new anymore,” Flood said. “Every defense around the country has a package. Now they’ve got some talented guys back there holding the football. That’s the harder thing to defend than the Wildcat.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.