When Robert Martin took a handoff on the first play of Rutgers’ sixth drive on offense, he saw a wide-open lane.
Martin shot up the middle on a zone-read feed from Chris Laviano without a defender in sight. As New Mexico loaded the box and over pursued, the junior running back made the Lobos pay for it in the form of an 80-yard touchdown run up the middle.
“It was a safety over the top,” Martin said. “Watching film all week, their defense gave up a lot of big runs because they play an aggressive defense, blitzing a lot. And once you get guys to the line of scrimmage, man, you just got to put your head down and get that stride and take it the distance.”
The scamper served as the highlight of a career day for Martin, who ran for 169 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. He eclipsed a previous career-high from last year when he rushed for 124 yards on 17 carries at Indiana.
The numbers were news to Martin.
“I didn’t even know I rushed for that much, to be honest with you,” he said. “My mind was racing throughout the whole game, just wanted to complete my assignments, do my job. I really didn’t even know how much I had until they told me.”
Martin earned his second straight start at running back after he did not appear in Rutgers’ opener in week one at Washington. He built off an 82-yard, 15-carry effort as the top rusher against Howard last week.
In an offense that thrived off big plays after a slow start, Martin’s run added to the revival.
“Robert had a great day,” said offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. “Rob rushed the ball well. He came out with 169 yards rushing, did a really good job. I think you put the one that he recovered on the ground … we got to get that part fixed. But other than that, I thought he ran physical, ran between the tackles, and credit to the O-line and the tight ends for what they did to make that part happen.”
The touchdown run from Martin came as a surprise to Mehringer.
“A couple of the big ones we scored — you know, Rob’s run — I did not expect, honestly, for that one to truly breakaway the way that it did,” Mehringer said. “But give credit to the O-line, specifically, for that play. Our right tackle, (sophomore Tariq Cole, did a nice job. Rob broke through, took the football and got into the end zone.”
Martin also credited his blockers along the line for push on that play and rest of the game.
“It definitely was a push up front,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. We got a push up front from the offensive line and my tight ends do a real good job as well and they’re just working their butts off and I was just trying to hit the hole.”
Despite a memorable day, Martin said he still has more to work on as Rutgers prepares for its Big Ten gauntlet. The Scarlet Knights (2-1) host Iowa (2-1) on Saturday at noon.
“I definitely think I’m a playmaker,” he said. “In this game, in this level of competition, man, if you don’t think you’re a playmaker, you shouldn’t be playing.”