Last week, Rutgers went up against a future NFL first-rounder who completed 52 passes on 73 attempts. Yesterday, RU dominated a middling FCS team from the MEAC going through a three-way quarterback battle, with three different signal-callers combining for eight completions on 27 attempts and an interception to boot. After two weeks of actual football, the jury is still out on where the defense actually stands after going up against polar opposites in back to back games. While the defense is still finding their true identity, the running game continues to impress after a solid showing in Fresno, and it is becoming more and more apparent that former walk-on Paul James might be the back that Rutgers has been waiting for. Check out the highlights from Saturday:
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This is the type of running game that Rutgers needs week in and week out. It doesn't have to be 273 yards every time, but solid, consistent production is what will bring a BCS berth to Piscataway. Paul James is a bruising runner who builds momentum like a juggernaut that can't be stopped by just one person, and Ron Prince has been utilizing him very well over the course of two games. James is the type of runner that can punish you as the game wears on, and that could not have been more apparent against Norfolk State. In the middle of the third quarter, Prince decided to go up-tempo with the running game, letting James pound the rock into the heart of the Spartans defense. After establishing the run, Prince mixed in a very opportunistic play-action pass to FB Michael Burton for a big gain. That's the type of offense that Flood wants, and it looks to be working very well early in the season.
The passing game left a lot to be desired. However, it's most likely that the playbook was kept to a vanilla approach, letting the BCS-talent simply overpower the opponent. Execution was very lacking, as there were more than a couple of plays that could have led to TDs or big gains. Still, QB Gary Nova had some great throws that showed his capability to not only fit a pass into a tight window, but anticipate the receiver getting open (specifically, the completition to Leonte Carroo before the second half ended).
What can you say about the defense? Make no mistake, Rutgers played a hell of a game defensively - 133 total yards allowed, with no completions for the starting quarterback Malik Stokes. The defensive line got great pressure, even with backup Al Page in during the second half. The secondary looked like a vintage RU defense, with the defensive backs making plays near the line of scrimmage. But, this was Norfolk State. Similar to Fresno State, this game is an outlier relative the rest of the schedule. It's just on the opposite end of the spectrum. Eastern Michigan is not much more of a challenge, so we may not see exactly what the unit is made of until Arkansas on September 21.
In other news, special teams has improved quite a bit from Fresno State. P Nick Marsh was a certifiable weapon during the game, giving the Spartans long fields to work with. Freshman PR Janarion Grant was much better than last week, while Anthony Cioffi looks to be a stalwart on punt block coverage for the foreseeable future.
If you had to take one thought away from this game, it's this: Rutgers did what they needed to do. It may not have been very pretty, but RU improved in several areas since week one and continues to get better each day. Another tune-up game is ahead for week three before an SEC opponent makes the trip to Piscataway, and that is a good chance for another confidence boost.
What did you find most interesting in the game? Were you disappointed, surprised, or happy? Leave a comment below with your thoughts on what may be the last FCS team to visit Rutgers in awhile.