Those looking for a shootout on the first night of the college football season got their wish when Rutgers faced Washington State in Seattle, but it was a former walk-on running back who stole the show.
The two teams combined for 813 passing yards and seven touchdowns through the air, but Scarlet Knights’ running back Paul James scored the game winning touchdown to seal a 41-38 win for the Big Ten newcomers. The winning score was one of three for the redshirt junior, who finished with 173 yards on 29 carries.
With new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen’s balanced attack in place, the much-maligned Gary Nova shook off an early interception inside his own 20-yard line to put in a solid performance. The senior completed 16-of-27 passes for 281 yards, two touchdowns and that lone interception.
Nova got off to a hot start when he hit Leonte Carroo, his high school teammate, for a 78-yard touchdown on RU’s first play from scrimmage.
James scored his first two touchdowns in the second quarter – one from 56 yards – to put the Scarlet Knights up 21-10, but then WSU senior quarterback Connor Halliday started to heat up after a rusty first quarter.
Halliday, who threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns, hit senior Vince Mayle (12 catches, 124 yards) for a 26-yard touchdown to close the gap to 21-17 at halftime. After his team received the opening kickoff in the second half, Halliday again led the Cougars down the field and put WSU ahead 24-21 on a seven-yard hook-up with River Cracraft (eight catches, 83 yards).
A Rutgers field goal followed. Then the Scarlet Knights forced a rare Cougars punt and subsequently capitalized, retaking a 34-31 lead with a Nova TD pass to John Tsimis from 29 yards out.
Predictably, Washington State responded with another Halliday touchdown pass to go ahead 38-34. The Cougars then forced a punt of their own on the ensuing Rutgers possession, but the usually dependable Cracraft muffed the punt to give the Scarlet Knights the ball at midfield. That’s where James again asserted himself, eating up clock and running for 27 yards on six carries that drive, including the game-winning score from three yards out.
Halliday and the Cougars regained possession with 3:18 to go, but a big sack by Kemoko Turay helped the Rutgers defense force WSU to turn the ball over on downs and seal the victory.
The win was a statement from the Scarlet Knights, a team that was picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten’s eastern division. Kyle Flood’s squad will look to build off the win in a home game against Howard next Saturday.
For Washington State, Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense (538 total yards -- 532 through the air) was able to slice up Rutgers’ defense for much of the second and third quarters, but a slow start and the late muffed punt were ultimately too much to overcome. The Cougars will travel to Nevada next Friday, looking to bounce back.
For more Rutgers news, visit ScarletNation.com.
For more Washington State news, visit WazzouWatch.com.
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