PISCATAWAY, N.J. — With new coach Chris Ash and Rutgers facing a major embarrassment in a supposed step-down game, Janarion Grant showed why he is the Scarlet Knights’ most exciting player.
Grant scored three touchdowns and Rutgers overcame an early scare against Howard in posting a 52-14 victory on Saturday, giving Ash his first win.
Grant resurrected a stunned Rutgers (1-1) from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit with an 84-yard kickoff return , and he was in the center of a 21-point third quarter with touchdown runs of 58 and 21 yards.
“Can’t say enough about Janarion Grant and what he brings to the offense and to special teams,” Ash said. “He’s right now our most electric player and we can’t get the ball in his hands enough. Obviously the big kickoff return helped us generate some momentum there in the first half when things were bleak. Second half defensively, we did a better job of getting off the field.”
Quarterback Chris Laviano added three touchdown passes as the Scarlet Knights scored the final 52 points in wearing down Howard (0-2), an FCS opponent that was facing its second straight Big Ten Conference opponent.
Grant was the difference as Rutgers rushed for 375 yards and had 512 yards in total offense. The senior wide receiver finished with six rushes for 106 yards, two receptions for 24 yards and three kickoff returns for 119 yards. His longer rushing TD came on a direct snap in a wildcat formation and was aided by a great block by Laviano.
“You just try to get him the ball as much as possible and let him do what he does,” said Laviano, who was 11 of 22 for 137 yards and an interception. “It’s super exciting.”
Grant said his fifth career kickoff return for a touchdown was the turning point.
“I think that picked every guy’s head up,” Grant said. “You just can’t give up because we’re down 14 points.”
Rutgers tied the game 14-all at the half and dominated in the final 30 minutes, limiting Howard to five yards in total offense.
Laviano had touchdown passes of 22 yards to Andre Patton, 7 to Carlton Agudosi and 29 to Jawuan Harris.
Kalen Johnson threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Robert Mercer on the opening drive of the game for Howard and he scored on a 15-yard run less than two minute later. It was set up by an interception by Alonte Dunn on Rutgers first play from scrimmage.
“I pretty much knew two scores against this team was not a safe haven for us,” coach Gary Harrell said. “We had to continue to play well and we just didn’t. We had a lot of mistakes. We had a sloppy finish. I was very disappointed the way we finished.”
HOWARD: Harrell may be second-guessing himself after taking out Johnson. He led scoring drives on the first two series and was then replaced by redshirt freshman Jason Collins for the third series, which came after Grant’s kickoff return. Harrell alternated his quarterbacks against Maryland and he did it again Saturday. The problem was Howard never got going again. Still, the Bison showed signs they will be able to compete in the MEAC and do better than their 1-10 mark a year ago.
Harrell said Johnson earned the right to get the majority of snaps the rest of the season.
RUTGERS: Despite the lopsided win, Rutgers is going to struggle this year. Howard gashed the defense with its running game and their quarterbacks had no problem finding open receivers. Against better competition the Scarlet Knights are going to be handled easily, much like No. 8 Washington did in the season opener. The most interesting aspect was that Rutgers used freshman quarterback Tylin Oden in the fourth quarter and he showed the athleticism that is needed in the power spread offense.
SCARY INJURY: The game was delayed almost 10 minutes in the third quarter when Howard linebacker Marques Blanchard sustained an injury to his back.
“When I came on the field he had problems moving his lower extremities, then he started moving,” Harrell said. “I think he will be fine. He moved through all the necessary tests and he seems to be OK.”
Blanchard was to accompany the team back to Washington, Harrell said.
Grant was a play too late to help his fellow Rutgers students. An auto dealership sponsored a contest in which 100 students would share $100,000 if the Scarlet Knights returned their opening kickoff for a touchdown. Grant returned the second one for a touchdown. A year ago, Grant was two kickoffs two late in the same contest, returning the third one for a TD against Norfolk State.
HOWARD: The Bison play their home opener against Hampton on Sept. 17.
RUTGERS: The Scarlet Knights stay home and face New Mexico on Sept. 17.
AP College Football Website: www.collegefootball.org