After returning the ball seven times in a loss to Rutgers last year, the Michigan State No.11 has turned to the big game approach with his new team of players. It worked perfectly.
Jalen Nailor caught 63, 63 and 65 yard touchdown passes from Payton Thorne and transfer Kenneth Walker scored on a record 94-yard run as the Spartans went undefeated with a 31-13 victory over the Scarlet Knights in shock on Saturday.
Michigan State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is having its best start since winning its first eight games in 2015, when it reached the college football playoffs.
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“We still have several playmakers that you haven’t seen yet,” said Nailor, who finished with five catches for a career-high 221 yards, a stadium record. “We have a lot of young guys emerging, but it’s getting more and more in line with the playbook and we’ve just been working hard, just trying to get everyone on the same page so far.”
The loss was the third in a row for Rutgers (3-3), all against ranked opponents. The Scarlet Knights fell to No.9 in Michigan two weeks ago and to No.7 in Ohio State last week. Overall, Rutgers has fallen from 33 consecutive teams to ranked teams since defeating the then number one. 23 South Florida 31-0 on November 12, 2009.
“I’m watching this game, we gave up the big games,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. “We gave up four big games. We didn’t. We didn’t give up the big games. You give up the big games, it’s going to be hard to do anything, right? You are behind the 8-ball. “
Michigan State, which lost to Rutgers 38-27 at home in Mel Tucker’s coaching debut, rewrote part of its record book in the game, and one for SHI Stadium, at Rutgers’ home.
Walker’s run, which entered the game for all players in Football Bowl Subdivision, was the longest offensive game in Michigan state history. The Spartans’ previous long run was 90 yards by Lynn Chandnois in 1949 against Arizona; their longest passing game was a 93-yard Tony Banks to Nigea Carter game against Indiana in 1994.
Walker finished with 233 rushing yards, his second 200-yard game of the season. He’s 913 yards this season, averaging 152.2 per game.
Nailor’s 221 reception shattered the stadium mark of 207 set by Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.
Thorne finished 16 of 27 for a career-best 339 yards and all three long touchdowns.
It was the fifth time in FBS history that a team had a 300-yard passer, a 200-yard rusher, and a 200-yard receiver in the same game.
“That’s a word. Explosive,” Walker said of Michigan State’s offense, which finished with 588 yards at 377 for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights have taken the lead twice earlier. They took a 7-0 advantage on a 4-yard pass from Johnny Langan to Aron Cruickshank after their defense foiled a false field goal attempt in the first set.
After the first 63-yard touchdown to a wide-open Nailor equalized the game, Val Ambrosio kicked a 26-yard field goal to give the Scarlet Knights a 10-7 lead.
Michigan State only needed five games to regain the lead, with Nailor catching the Rutgers 35 over the shoulder and cutting across the field to score.
A turnover set up Ambroio’s short second goal and reduced the lead to one, but Thorne and Nailor hung onto a flea flicker in the Spartans’ first game of their next practice for a lead of 21-13. Thorne passed the baton to Walker, who hit back at the quarterback for the long scoring pass. TD’s three receptions tied a school record, last tied by Cody White against Rutgers two years ago.
Walker opened the game midway through the third quarter with his 94-yard rush. He drove through a huge hole, smashed a few tackles in front of the Michigan State bench and slid to the end zone, exchanging a fist pump with Nailor near the end zone.
Not only did Rutgers miss main receiver Bo Melton with a shoulder injury, receivers coach Tiquan Underwood was not at the game because he was in COVID-19 protocol.
END OF SEMESTER MADNESS
Michigan State took points at the end of the first half. A detention penalty canceled out a 10-yard TD executed by Walker with 47 seconds left. After a short completion, the Spartans let the clock run and Thorne threw a check into the end zone when time ran out. Referee Larry Smith examined the videotape and put a second on the clock.
With Matt Coghlin lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt, Schiano called for two timeouts. Coghlin missed the kick.
Eric LeGrand, paralyzed during a football game against Army in 2010, and four other athletes were inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Fame in a halftime ceremony.
State of Michigan: In Indiana next Saturday.
“The team is hungry,” Tucker said. “We still have a lot to prove and we haven’t played our best football.”
Rutgers: Northwest next Saturday.