If there was any question to what Janarion Grant could not do with a football in his hands, he put it to rest on Saturday in Rutgers’ 37-28 win over New Mexico.
One week after the senior wide receiver did it all to ignite the Scarlet Knights in their 52-14 rout of Howard, Grant was back at it again with 165 all-purpose yards and two total touchdowns.
Grant is known for his speed, but his first touchdown came from his arm. He took a reverse from the slot, rolled out across and threw a 21-yard pass to Andre Patton to capitalize Rutgers’ longest scoring drive of the game.
“We’ve been practicing (the wide-receiver pass), like every practice we get,” Grant said. “Even when we have (practice on) Fridays, we work on it as well. So I just try to just be practicing everyday. I always throw ducks, though, in practice, though. I don’t think (the touchdown pass) was a duck. It might not have been a duck, but it was pretty good.”
Grant gave Rutgers (2-1) a spark it needed for the second straight week, and he did so in more ways than one. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder made a 69-yard touchdown return out of nothing after the ensuing drive by the Lobos (1-2).
The career-long punt return from Grant knotted the game at 21 apiece.
“As I caught the ball, I seen where I could go, so I went that way,” said Grant, who muffed the first punt off New Mexico’s opening drive. “Then I seen a flow of the defenders coming my way, so then I cutback and I knew I had defenders in my way. So then just ran off that man. Once I did that, I was in the end zone by the end.”
From there, it was all Rutgers.
Robert Martin, who ran for a career-high 169 yards on 21 carries, ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the next Rutgers drive.
It was a lead Rutgers did not relinquish.
“It’s definitely fun watching this offense, man,” Martin said. “Since I’m in the backfield, I get to see things. If there’s deep balls completed for touchdowns, I just know that we got a lot of athletes on this team, a lot of good offensive linemen that can execute their job at a high level.
Chris Laviano put Rutgers on the board with a 75-yard streak to Jawuan Harris in the first quarter, but struggled to do much after his only touchdown pass of the day. The junior finished with 152 yards on 11-for-27 passing, a completion percentage of just 40.7.
“We’ve got to get more consistent,” said Laviano, who was replaced by TCU graduate transfer Zach Allen for a series in the fourth quarter. “Honestly, all it comes down to is one or two plays. And whether that’s me or anyone else, we have to stay more consistent — especially in the beginning.”
Rutgers outscored New Mexico 37-7 after the initial deficit.
The defense recovered with two turnovers on an interception before the end of the first half by true freshman safety KJ Gray. Junior defensive end Darnell Davis jarred a fumble loose in the third quarter and sophomore cornerback Blessuan Austin scooped it up for a 13-yard return.
“Defensively, it’s a unique scheme, a lot of pressure, a lot of cover zero,” said head coach Chris Ash. “Got a bunch of big plays against their offense and we were able to get a bunch of big plays also. Can't say enough about our players, for the second week in a row, we come out of the gate and we get down but nobody flinched. Everybody believes in themselves, in each other, in our plan, and we just kept going. We made the plays that we needed to.”
With the completion of non-conference play, the real test begins next Saturday when Iowa arrives in the Big Ten opener for both programs. The Hawkeyes entered the week ranked No. 13, but suffered a 21-20 loss to FCS North Dakota State.
“Every week is important,” Ash said. “You know, a win every week is important. I’m not even concerned about that. I’m just concerned about us continue to go get better and try to play to our full potential. Whether Iowa wins or loses, it doesn’t really matter to us. We have got to worry about ourselves and focus on our preparation and on our improvement.”