PISCATAWAY — On a day Rutgers honored Eric LeGrand, Paul James again was the big story for the Scarlet Knights.
With starting quarterback Gary Nova sidelined early with an apparent concussion and Eastern Michigan threatening to spoil LeGrand’s day, James came through again.
The sophomore running back ran for a career-best 192 yards and three touchdowns and Rutgers defeated Eastern Michigan 28-10 on Saturday when the Scarlet Knights honored the paralyzed LeGrand by retiring his No. 52 jersey.
James has rushed for 493 yards on 61 carries in three games, averaging 164.3 yards per game and 8.1 yards per carry. He has six touchdowns in the last two games and has become the offense for Rutgers (2-1).
“I am fine with that pressure,” said James, a former walk-on who now has a scholarship. “It definitely makes me strive for more when they put that pressure on me. I definitely want to be consistent with my numbers, because consistency wins games, no matter what.”
The pressure on James increased early, when Nova was hit in the helmet after releasing a pass on the opening series and suffered the apparent concussion. He finished the drive but never came back. Coach Kyle Flood refused to disclose his injury after the game or say how long he might be out.
“When the star quarterback goes down, it definitely is going to become more of a running game,” James said. “I knew it was going to be heavy run plays so I had to focus, getting the ball, getting a lot of carries and getting that power running.”
James had 21 carries against Eastern Michigan (1-2), but he turned two of them into his third and fourth runs of 50 yards his season. Quron Pratt also joined the big play lineup, returning a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
The running game was going so well that Chas Dodd only needed to throw nine passes after replacing Nova.
“If you are able to do something and they are not doing a good job stopping it, then why not?” Dodd said. “Just keep doing it. That was a lot of it. We ran the ball well and it was great seeing us do that.”
The retirement of LeGrand’s No. 52 was also great to see.
It marked the first time in the 144-year history of the birthplace of college football that the university retired the number of a football player and this one was clearly loved by all in attendance.
Flood said it was emotional for him to host the start of the retirement ceremony.
“I thought that that was great, and I know he appreciated it,” Flood said.
Ryan Brumfield scored on a 43-yard pass from Tyler Benz on a flea-flicker for Eastern Michigan and Dylan Mulder added a 39-yard field goal, but missed two other makeable attempts.
Nova hit all four of his passes for 40 yards on the Scarlet Knights’ game-opening 87-yard drive, which James capped with a 13-yard run around the left side.
“He did a good job,” said Eastern Michigan coach Ron English, whose team outgained Rutgers 373-274. “He had the long run and had some good gains. I think he’s a good running back and I thought he did a good job.”
Mulder cut the lead to four points on the Eagles’ opening series, but Pratt took the ensuing kickoff at the 1-yard line and was never touched in going to the house for a 14-3 lead.
The rest of the half belonged to Eastern Michigan with the razzle-dazzle second-quarter play getting them back in the game. Brumfield took the snap in the shotgun position and started to circle the right end. He lateralled the ball to Benz on the left side of the field and the quarterback passed it back to him. With Rutgers out of position, all Brumfield had to do was avoid one tackle and it was 14-10.
Mulder missed a 31-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the half.
James put the game out of reach in the second half when he scored on a 55-yard run down the left sideline on the Scarlet Knights’ opening series. The sophomore closed out the scoring with his 52-yard run in the fourth quarter, this time going down the right sideline
The intermission belonged to LeGrand, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a game against Army in 2010. His No. 52 was retired and he told the crowd he still believed he will walk again.
“I have my doubters out there,” LeGrand said. “They say, ‘You’ll never walk again, you’re not a hero. You deserve to be where you are because you were trying to hurt the guy you were tackling.' It doesn’t bother me. For every one of those, there are a 100 that are behind me. ”