After losing a third straight game in excruciating fashion to Navy, Rutgers' is searching for positives. They need to look no further than the running game where the Scarlet Knights rushed for 206 yards.
The headline guy from the run game, and deservedly so, is redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks, who rushed for a career high 134 yards and two touchdowns. However, he's not the only reason to be impressed by Rutgers finally showing it could rush the ball without Ray Rice in the backfield.
Right underneath Brooks in the box score is redshirt freshman Joe Martinek. He was the lightning to Brooks' thunder with eight carries for 61 yards and a touchdown.
"Well Joe's a talented guy," Head Coach Greg Schiano said about the running back from Hopatcong, N.J. "The thing that always impressed me about him is he does what you ask him to do, and he did it well on Saturday. He's working his way into some carries."
Being able to run the ball for chunks of yardage isn't new for Martinek. When his high school career was finished, he had one of the most prolific four-year stints ever in New Jersey. At Hopatcong High School, he left as the all-time leading rusher in state history with 7,589 yards and 80 touchdowns. The mark was also good for 38th all-time in the entire country at the time.
Despite those gaudy numbers, Martinek was moved to safety in college. Scout.com also had him projected as a defensive back out of high school. His main responsibility freshman year was as the scout team running back. Schiano watched as the 2006 Gatorade New Jersey State Player of the Year broke tackles and ran past his first-team defense and decided the best place for him to be was where he broke records: running back.
"We had him on defense and we used him as a scout team running back," Schiano said. "Every time this guy would go, I would say 'this guy is pretty good' so we made him move to running back in the spring. How well he runs doesn't surprise me."
Entering the 2008 season, junior Kordell Young and sophomore Mason Robinson were the co-starters at halfback. Young was injured in Week 2, so Brooks was able to split carries with Robinson and eventually earned himself the starting job against the Midshipmen. This showed out of the foursome of backs, Martinek appeared to be at the bottom of the totem pole. That didn't stop him though, and he knew if he kept at it he would eventually see the field.
"I just kept working hard," the former First Team All-State selection said. "If I did everything I could, I was happy with that. Eventually things would work out."
With the Navy game coming up, Young would still be unable to play, and it appeared
Martinek would get a chance to play. He was noticing that he was getting more
snaps during practice and that gave him the idea that he would spell Brooks
when he was tired.
"I basically just went out there like I did the previous two weeks and just prepared as well as I could," he said. "If I got the opportunity, I just wanted to make the most of it."
Martinek would get his opportunity in Annapolis, with some nerves along the way. Most of them came on the first carry because he always dreamt of the first hand-off he would take in college. From there, he said the jitters were gone. Next play, he scores his first collegiate touchdown.
"There were so many things going through my mind," he said about the 5-yard TD run. "I thought of all the people that helped me just to get to that point. I've had dreams about playing in front of a huge crowd like [at Navy]. Now that it's behind me, I want to see what I can do this week."
For the day, Martinek averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, including a 29-yard scamper. It felt great to contribute, but his goal is to continue to work and try and improve off of this effort.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "There are always things you can work on and I'm trying to work on those things this week. It was an awesome feeling and hopefully I can do better this week."
The offensive line did an amazing job of run blocking according to Martinek, and he was given big holes to run through. Another factor for the team's success on the ground was the game planning by the coaching staff.
"The coaches did a great job during the week," Martinek said. "The looks that we saw in practice were what we saw in the game. That always makes things a lot easier."
The game was a homecoming for Brooks, who's from Germantown, Md., but Martinek had his fair share of family present in the stadium. His mother almost couldn't make it, but was able to make the trek with his father and brother at the last minute. His dad said the phone was ringing off the hook the whole day.
Martinek loved that the community was so involved in his performance on the field. He wants to keep getting more reps during the game, and instead of resting on his recent success, he's going to keep doing what he's always been doing: preparing.
"If I get that opportunity again," he said, "I'm just going
to make the most of it."