Rutgers sophomore running back Paul James isn't a one-game wonder, and the Scarlet Knights defense showed it wasn't a one-game blunder.
James ran for 119 yards and three touchdowns and Rutgers rebounded from a season-opening shootout loss by defeating Norfolk State 38-0 on Saturday in its annual blowout against a Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference opponent.
"If you want to have a tough football team, it usually starts with running the football and stopping the run and I think today we were able to do both of those," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said.
Coming into the season, running back and the defense were two of the biggest question marks for the Scarlet Knights after Jawan Jamison entered the NFL draft and the defense lost seven starters.
James, who only had five carries for 22 yards last season and has progressed from a walk-on to a scholarship player, has answered the running back issue. After gaining 182 yards in the 52-51 overtime loss to Fresno State, he cracked the 100-yard plateau again, scoring on runs 1, 10 and 25 yards, his first three collegiate touchdowns.
"You have to envision greatness if you want to achieve it," James said. "You have to see it before you actually go out and do it."
The same can be said for the Rutgers defense, which allowed 543 yards and its most points in three years in the loss to Fresno State.
The defense responded by limiting Norfolk State (0-2) to 133 yards and setting up two touchdowns with turnovers against its Football Championship Subdivision foe. The Spartans started 10 of their 16 offensive possessions from inside its own 17-yard line, including four inside the 10.
"We came out to make a statement, if just to people, that Rutgers defense is still alive and will be alive for a long time," said linebacker Steve Longa, who set up one of the three first-quarter touchdowns with a fumble recovery. "We might have a lot of young people on defense, including myself, but it doesn't mean we can't make plays."
Rutgers made a lot of plays.
Gary Nova added an 8-yard pass to Ruhann Peele and Savon Huggins tallied on a 1-yard for Rutgers, which has outscored MEAC teams 341-14 in games since 2006. The Scarlet Knights finished with 423 yards in total offense.
Norfolk State has been outscored 128-0 in three games against Rutgers since 2007.
"If you don't get first downs and you put your defense on their side of the 50 every single time, it's tough," Spartans quarterback Tyler Clark said. "You just can't win if you can't score, that's what it comes down to."
This one was pretty much over by the end of the first quarter as Rutgers scored on three of its five series. The domination was so great in the first 15 minutes that only two plays were run in Scarlet Knights' territory.
Quron Pratt got Rutgers, a Football Bowl Subdivision school, going by blocking a Dalton Fraser punt from the Spartans 41 on the second series. Anthony Cioffi recovered and advanced the ball to the 15. James walked into the end zone five plays later.
Longa recovered a fumble by Rolandan Finch at the Norfolk 19 on the next series. Nova (12 of 21 for 150 yards and an interception) hit Peele for a second touchdown in less than two minutes.
A third-down punt from the 1 by quarterback Malik Stokes gave Rutgers the ball at Spartans 33 late in the quarter and James scored from 10 yards out on his fourth consecutive carry for a 21-0 lead.
"That guy's a beast, no question about that," Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian said. "Rutgers every year we've been up here has always had a really good football team. They have eight or nine guys going to the NFL, maybe at the same time. The size of their offensive line, the athleticism of their defense that really can run and close things down on you, it's a different level."
An interception of Stokes by Jamal Merrell at the Norfolk State 30 early in the third quarter and a 17-yard pass from Nova to Peele on third down set up Huggins' touchdown.
James broke the 100-yard mark rushing and scored his last touchdown on the Scarlet Knights next series, circling to the left and outracing the defense into the end zone.
Kyle Federico added a 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
The last Rutgers player to rush for three touchdowns in a game was Jourdan Brooks in 2009 against Howard, another MEAC team.
Stokes started the game for Norfolk State and did not have a completion in 10 attempts. Clark was 5 of 10 for 44 yards. Omari Timmons finished the game for the Spartans.