The Savon Huggins era has now officially begun.
There were no ankle-breaking moments, no opposing defenders sprawled in the running back’s dust and no gaudy stats. Just a Rutgers win.
And from the looks of things, with Huggins in the backfield, that might be enough. Huggins had the game’s first two touchdowns in Rutgers’ 48-0 win over North Carolina Central. Against a team picked to finish sixth in the MEAC, in a conference with names like Coppin State and Florida A&M, it took the Scarlet Knights nearly a full quarter to score and take control of the game, but when they did, it was Huggins who carried them there.
Huggins finished third on the Scarlet Knights rushing totals on Thursday night with 33 yards on 10 carries, but the positives were there.
On a night where much of the 18-to-25-year-old set was glued to MTV watching a new installment of “The Jersey Shore,” it was Huggins and his Rutgers teammates in front of a crowd of 40,061 who were “Jersey Sure.” The freshman running back, the consensus top high school player in the state last fall, showed sparks of why he was a national recruit and the biggest talent to ever land at Rutgers.
Anyone expecting Huggins to be an instant savior and to produce SportsCenter quality plays was disappointed by his debut on the night. There wasn’t a signature moment from the freshman, who came in for his first carry on Rutgers’ third possession of the night. Instead, it was slow, methodical running between the tackles from Huggins — the highest-ranked commitment in the history of the program and the No. 2 player in the nation according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.
Huggins decided to stay in New Jersey when the likes of Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame were all offering the Under Armour All-American a chance to feature on their star-laden squads. He did so to help turn around the program’s recently soured fortunes.
“I wanted to stay home. I felt we had a really good squad; I couldn’t wait to unleash them,” Huggins said. “That’s why I stayed home.”
It was progress measured rarely by double-digit gains. Instead, it was hard-running between the tackles with tenacity reminiscent of Ray Rice, a sacred name on the banks of the Raritan. Before he left Rutgers in his junior year for the NFL, Rice was the catalyst of the Scarlet Knights’ offense, including running for 1,100 yards in his freshman year.
But in his debut, a Sept. 3, 2005 game against Illinois, Rice’s numbers were better when compared to Huggins’ debut, getting 12 carries for 55 yards. And while there is an obvious differential in the Big 10 talent Rice faced six years ago and Huggins on Thursday night, there is no denying that there are good vibes from Huggins’s debut.
“It was really good to see how much burst he has,” head coach Greg Schiano said. “You can see he had some pop.”
Huggins has the making of a workhorse, but he was the third running back used by Schiano on the night — after De’Antwann Williams and Jawan Jamison. He didn’t get his first touch until Rutgers’ 11th play on offense, a three-yard carry up the middle. He then carried for plays No. 12, No. 13 and No. 14. Huggins had a play off as quarterback Chas Dodd connected with Mohamed Sanu for a 20-yard pass play, and then Huggins had the next three carries. He capped those off when he hit up the left side of the line for a one-yard touchdown run where his legs never stopped churning.
It was vintage Rice-type running but comparisons to Rice, now a top running back in the NFL.
“I feel it’s an honor to be compared to him but I just go out there and play my game, do what I have to do,” Huggins said. “Don’t try to be a superhero, don’t try to do this and that. Just go out there and play the game.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.