Sophomore Paul James, who came to Fresno with only 22 yards and injury problems to his name, left with a 182-yard night and a message set in the competition for starting running back.
Junior Savon Huggins ran six times for 15 yards before James saw his first series and never looked back. He broke two runs of more than 50 yards and was the harbinger of a comeback that swung the momentum in favor of Rutgers in the third quarter.
"I guess you could say that there's a little drive inside of me," James said on taking advantage of his opportunity.
James missed his senior season at Glassboro (N.J.) with a knee injury. He missed half of last season with a high ankle sprain and battled injuries in the spring.
Healthy and coming out of a strong training camp, James expected a role in the 52-51 loss to Fresno State, but not necessarily a chance as the feature back.
"I didn't know how it was going to be," James said. "I just went out there and listened to the coach when they called me. … I was just going out there and giving 100 percent every play. Whatever they needed me to do, I was going out to do it."
"They helped me a lot," James said. "They opened up great holes and I just followed them and maybe broke a few tackles. They opened up great holes for me.
"I was talking to [Muller] after. He had a lot of great blocks for me. We were chatting about it, he was like ‘you like running behind me?' I was like, ‘yeah.'"
James finished with 8.3 yards per carry on his breakout night but did not record a touchdowns.
James broke free twice but got caught from behind both times by the Bulldog secondary.
"It's something I have to work at, my breakaway speed," James said.
James replaced Huggins as the first-team back in the game. Flood described it as riding the hot hand and will evaluate the situation this weekend.
"After an emotional game like that, I don't think it's really the time to discuss the depth chart but we're going to go back and look at the film," Flood said. "I'm very proud of P.J. He did a great job for us. He's one of the reasons we had an opportunity to win it at the end."