Rutgers opened its season with a 41-38 win over Washington State on Thursday in Seattle. Here's the good, the bad and the B1G from the Scarlet Knights' victory.
— Two words: Paul James. Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers. We see you've brought your own dominating running back. You'll fit in quite nicely. There's a new name to be added to the list of awesome ball carriers in the conference after James' performance Thursday night. The Knights' junior running back carried the ball 29 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns. That's a Melvin Gordon/Ameer Abdullah kind of day. Yes, it was a Washington State defense that isn't known for its run-stopping prowess, but James was still extremely impressive in being able to pick up huge chunks of yardage using fancy footwork, speed and bruising straight-ahead runs. He provided a consistent offensive option during the many moments when quarterback Gary Nova wasn't one. Even if it seemed as if the Rutgers play-callers were reluctant to lean on James, whenever they did give him the ball, he did great things. That includes delivering the game-winning score. It seemed that once the Knights got close to the end zone, James scoring was a certainty.
[MORE BIG TEN: Gary Nova unleashes 78-yard TD pass on Rutgers' first B1G play]
— Rutgers might not have entered the season as a team with big-play potential, but boy did the Knights have some whoppers on Thursday. You need to when you score 41 points. The first-ever play as a member of the Big Ten was a 78-yard touchdown bomb from Nova to Leonte Carroo that nearly broke Twitter. James added his own huge scramble, a 56-yard touchdown dash in the second quarter. Then there was the game-saving special-teams play: Jonathan Aiken stripping the ball on a fourth-quarter punt return, forcing a fumble that gave Rutgers the ball back for its game-winning drive. The defense, which played quite poorly all night long, even came up with some big plays on Wazzu's final drive, chiefly Kemoko Turay's sack of Connor Halliday.
[MORE BIG TEN: The good, the bad, the B1G: Gophers 42, Eastern Illinois 20]
— The Knights pulled out a shocking 41-38 win out West, but it wasn't necessarily thanks to their defense. That side of the ball was routinely ripped apart with ease by an admittedly potent Wazzu offense. Mike Leach's air-raid offense is known for its explosiveness and effectiveness, but the Rutgers secondary — an expected weak spot entering the season — made it look like non-contact drills at times. Look at these numbers for Halliday, the Cougars' QB: 40-for-56, 532 yards, five touchdowns. Yikes. Fortunately for the Knights, they shouldn't see a passing attack like that from many of their new conferencemates. Still, that's an awful big problem that needs addressing.
— Nova's game-opening touchdown bomb got everyone out of their seats, but it wasn't necessarily indicative of how he played on the evening. Nova, who was benched at the end of last season, still needs some polishing, with consistency being the thing that needs to be focused on the most. He made plenty of great throws, finishing with a pair of nice touchdown passes. But he made a lot of bad ones, too. That includes a grotesque interception in the first quarter immediately after Rutgers' defense had made a goal-line stand. It's Week 1, and there's plenty of time for improvement. But certainly Nova's performance won't earn rave reviews.
[MORE BIG TEN: Gophers' Maxx Williams jumped over this guy, and it was awesome]
— Before the highlight, just realize this: Rutgers out-rushed Wazzu, 215-6. Six rushing yards!
— Here's that game-opening 78-yard touchdown pass from Nova to Carroo. This one will likely be played on a loop in Piscataway from now until the end of time:
(Video from FoxSports.com)