PISCATAWAY, N.J. — True freshmen running backs Josh Hicks and Robert Martin had told their Rutgers teammates it was coming.
“We hear them talk about it all the time — like ‘as soon as I get my chance you’re all going to see,’ ” right tackle Taj Alexander said. “And it sounds good [when you say it] but we’ll see what happens when you get in the game.
In a 45-23 win against Indiana, the two saw the most extensive and meaningful game action of their careers, combining for 197 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries for Rutgers (6-4, 2-4 Big Ten).
Now, the players will head to East Lansing, Michigan, to face No. 12 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1). The Spartans rank No. 8 in the country against the run, yielding 103.7 yards per game.
Heading into the Indiana game, coach Kyle Flood said he could use four running backs, which he did after moving Hicks back to running back after a short stint on defense.
Hicks practiced at free safety during Rutgers’ first bye week, which came after the Michigan game on Oct. 4. He moved back to running back during Rutgers’ bye week prior to the Indiana game on Nov. 15.
Flood has been coy about whether or not he’ll still use a four-back rotation. However, he did say protecting the football was the first priority and both running backs Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples — who is listed as questionable with an upper body injury — fumbled against Indiana.
With their breakout performances against Indiana, Hicks and Martin are listed as the co-starters this week. Despite that, the mindset hasn’t changed.
“My mentality is still the same,” Martin said. “Just to get better each week, and just studying my opponent and making sure I know what I’m doing going into that game and I feel as though I’m hungry, so I’m just going to give it my all.”
And the fact that they’re both freshmen has helped them.
“We go through plays together or we look over film,” Hicks said. “He [Martin] understands where I’m coming from and I understand where he’s coming from. We’re basically growing together as one.”
What helps in doing so is their running styles. Hicks said that he and Martin have similar running styles, “but I run with a little bit more power and he runs with speed and power.”
— Robert Martin
Flood sees those similarities. However, as they continue to get acclimated to college football, each will get a chance to show the highlights of their particular skill sets.
“I think they’ll separate themselves with their play, but you know, they are similar runners,” Flood said. “I think they’re both physical running backs who showed last week that they have the ability to make you miss. So now, as their body of work grows, I think their personalities will come out more.”
The personalities are quite different. Martin called Hicks the “quiet guy,” while he’s the “funny guy,” to which Hicks concurred.
Now that the two have done what they’ve been saying they’d do since August, they’re tasked with repeating their breakout performances. Despite having to do so against one of the top rushing defenses in the country, the freshmen don’t appear concerned.
“I’m looking forward to it, because like I said before, I want to compete against the best of the best,” Martin said. “So why not Michigan State who’s ranked [No. 8 against the run] in the country and perform and help my team get the W.”