One of the big questions for Rutgers heading into the season was who would shoulder the load at running back. After the first game against NC Central, there is no real answer.
The Scarlet Knights played their four top backs in the opener. De'Antwan Williams got the start ahead of freshman Savon Huggins. Jawan Jamison and Jeremy Deering, who were slowed during camp because of injuries, also played. Coach Greg Schiano knows he will have to pare down that rotation heading into their big game Saturday at North Carolina.
But he is not revealing just how he will do that. The answer is not much clearer on the depth chart, either, as Williams and Huggins are listed as potential starters. But Williams has been getting the reps with the first team.
"The goal was to get them all opportunities and see how it played out," Schiano said. "They all had good training camps. Two of the guys were hampered by injuries so they didn't get as many opportunities. We have to hone in and tighten up a little bit."
There were a few nice runs in the opener, but Rutgers did not establish consistency in the run game, averaging just 3.3 yards a carry. The longest run of the day belonged to Jamison -- a 14-yarder. He ended with 17 carries for 54 yards. Williams had 11 carries for 44 yards, while Huggins had 10 carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns. Deering, coming off a head injury, ended with 9 yards on two carries.
"Jeremy is one of those guys that's a hold‑your‑breath guy, too, when he touches it, as good as we have seen," Schiano said. "He can go the distance. So hopefully we'll try to get him a new more touches.
"In watching the tape, De'Antwan, he ran very good, very well. Savon did some good things. They all did."
For Williams, getting the starting nod for the first time in his career was hugely important. He had been an afterthought the first two seasons of his career, rushing for a total of 346 yards. But he came on strong with an impressive fall camp, which allowed him to hold off the more highly touted Huggins, at least for now.
"Getting the start makes me believe and shows I put in all the hard work and it finally paid off, " Williams said in a phone interview. "I felt like if I sat here and I gave it all I could give, I couldn’t be wrong. So I gave it my all and did everything in my power to do what I could do to get the starting job."
The Rutgers running back situation has been in flux for the past several years now. Many have high expectations for Huggins, one of the most highly touted players to ever choose Rutgers. He showed flashes during fall camp as well, but has gone through the freshman learning curve.
Deering, a converted wide receiver, missed 18 straight practices during preseason camp with a concussion, but is completely healthy now and waiting on his chance to make an impression.
"I don’t like sitting out and that kind of stuff," Deering said. "For a while, I wasn’t in the competition and was just focused on being back. Now I'm feeling good, taking it day by day, working hard to do the best I can do."
The Rutgers offensive line faces a formidable challenge up front. North Carolina has a veteran defensive line, with three starters returning from last season. That includes defensive end Quinton Coples, projected as one of the top players available for the 2012 NFL draft. Being able to establish the run early certainly will make things much easier.
Whether Rutgers relies on a few of its backs or all four remains to be seen.