What we learned from Rutgers’ season-opening win against Washington State
Here are three takeaways from the Rutgers football team’s 41-38 victory Thursday night against Washington State.
Junior running back Paul James has not taken any steps back after missing four games last season due to a lower body injury and being limited in the spring.
Against the Cougars, James rushed for 173 yards and tallied three touchdowns, including a 56-yard scurry in the second quarter – his fifth career rushing touchdown of at least 50 yards.
James was quick to credit those around him.
“I’ve got to give it to my offensive line and [offensive coordinator Ralph] Friedgen with the play calls,” James said. “They did a great job blocking for me, and I just did the rest.”
In his weekly press conference yesterday, head coach Kyle Flood could not single out one characteristic that makes James special as a back.
“There’s really two things that have allowed him to be as productive as he is,” Flood said. “He’s excellent with his off-hand. He does as very good job of protecting himself from people who are trying to tackle him. I also think he is faster than people think. People see him as a big back, but when you see him in the open field, you don’t see him get caught very often.”
Despite being limited in the spring season and practice, Flood assures there are no durability or conditioning concerns with James.
After the junior tallied 29 carries against the Cougars on Thursday, Flood added he thinks James is capable of carrying the ball 35 times a game.
“Durability is not something I am worried about. I don’t have any [injury] concerns entering this year,” Flood said. “I think he is in excellent condition and he looks great. We’ve got a guy who can dominate the game.”
Despite opening holes for 215 rushing yards on five yards per carry, Flood conceded that the offensive line still has room for improvement, specifically in run blocking.
With sophomore wide receivers Ruhann Peele and Andre Patton inactive for Saturday’s home opener in Monday’s injury report, the active receivers need to step up until the pair returns.
With junior wide receiver Leonte Carroo likely to command more double-teams, sophomores Janarion Grant and John Tsimis will need to offer reliable second and third options. The duo added a combined 88 yards on seven catches, with Tsimis breaking out for a 29-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
Flood said he was satisfied with Tsimis’ and Grant’s performances, but acknowledged sophomore Carlton Agudosi and senior transfer Andrew Turzilli will see more action against Howard Saturday as they near full health.
“I’m pleased with John [Tsimis] and Janarion [Grant]. I think they will get more opportunities as Leonte [Carroo] continues to perform and people try to stop what he is doing,” Flood said. “I think with the extended week, Agudosi and Turzilli will be closer to 100 percent and we’ll hope to get more out of those guys.”
Tsimis said he was optimistic about the receiving corps’ production despite the absence of Peele and Patton.
“We did pretty good. I don’t know if we had any drops, but everyone was running the right routes and there were no mental errors,” Tsimis said. “It was good to see that we were crisp out there.”
Although the Scarlet Knights forfeited a school record 532 yards on 56 attempts, it might not be as bad as it seems.
The Cougars threw the ball 56 times — mostly screens — and averaged 13.3 yards on 40 completions. Rutgers only completed 16 passes but made the most of 27 attempts in tallying 17.6 yards per completion.
For a Washington State team that passed on 80 percent of its offensive plays, Flood was optimistic about the secondary’s performance.
“I think when you have [Washington State’s] style of offense, with less emphasis on the run game, I think the passing yards are going to be inflated,” Flood said Friday on a conference call. “Do I think we can play better in the secondary? I do. Do I think we made some improvements from last year? I think we did.”
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