The No. 11 Michigan State Spartans traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights for a Big Ten East showdown between two programs who like to use the manta “Keep Chopping.” When it was all said and done, MSU earned a 31-13 victory and improved to 6-0 on the season, already getting to bowl eligibility just six weeks into the season.
Michigan State received the ball first and moved the ball nicely all the way down to Rutgers’ 25-yard-line before attempting a questionable fake field goal that did not work well for the Spartans, as the Scarlet Knights stopped it and took over the ball.
Rutgers would then strike first on the scoreboard, as RU put together a nine-play, 72-yard drive — highlighted by a 33-yard run by quarterback Noah Vedral — that was finished off with a four-yard touch pass from the other quarterback, Johnny Langan, to wide receiver Aron Cruickshank. After the extra point, the Scarlet Knights led 7-0.
The Spartans would immediately answer back, however. It took just two plays and 46 seconds for Michigan State to go 75 yards and find the end zone, as quarterback Payton Thorne hit wide receiver Jalen “Speedy” Nailor, who was wide open, for 63 yards and six points. Following Matt Coghlin’s extra point, the game was tied 7-7 at that point.
It would prove to be a big day for Nailor.
Rutgers would score again on its next possession, driving deep into Michigan State territory, eventually getting to the Spartans’ eight-yard-line before stalling. Kicker Valentino Ambrosio knocked through a 26-yard field goal to give the Scarlet Knights a 10-7 lead.
But once again, the Spartans had a quick answer. It was Thorne finding Nailor once more for 63 yards. Nailor caught the ball on the sideline, put a move on the defensive back and proceeded to outrun every other defender. It was then 14-10 in Michigan State’s favor.
After the Michigan State defense forced a punt on the next drive, the Spartans would then turn the ball over as Thorne couldn’t handle the snap and Rutgers recovered a fumble deep into MSU territory. However, the Spartans’ defense would hold, forcing an Ambrosio field goal attempt from 29-yards out, which was good. Michigan State then led Rutgers 14-13.
However, “Speedy” wasn’t quite done making plays just yet. On the first play of the drive, Thorne hit Nailor for a 65-yard touchdown on the flea flicker, making the score 21-13 with Michigan State in the lead.
Prior to the first half ending, Michigan State would drive into the red zone to look to put more points on the board before heading into the locker room at the break, but Coghlin’s field goal attempt was blocked, and the 21-13 score held.
Linebacker Cal Haladay — who had to sit out the first half of this game due to a questionable targeting call in the second half against Western Kentucky last week — returned in the second half, and the Michigan State defense really seemed to tighten up in the final 30 minutes. The Spartans shut out the Scarlet Knights in the second half, and did not allow Rutgers to convert a third down in the third quarter.
Offensively, both teams struggled to move the football in the early part of third quarter. That is until Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III took a handoff 94 yards — the longest play from scrimmage in Michigan State football history — to the house for a touchdown. Coghlin hit the extra point, and Michigan State took a commanding 28-13 lead.
KENNETH WALKER— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 9, 2021
94 YARDS! pic.twitter.com/Pb291Pzkhu
Also, please note the handshake between Walker and Nailor before the play even ended. Amazing.
Not much scoring happened after that, as the teams would trade punts in the next two possessions, and then Rutgers turned the ball over on downs on its next drive, followed by Thorne throwing an interception on Michigan State’s next drive. The MSU defense would then make another play as Simeon Barrow sacked Vedral and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Jacob Slade, and the Spartans took over the ball.
Coghlin would go to add a 35-yard field goal, giving Michigan State a 31-13 lead and that would be the final score of the game.
Nailor set a record for most receiving yards at SHI Stadium with 221, and tied the Michigan State record for single game receiving touchdowns with three. His 221 receiving yards also were the fourth-most ever from a Spartan in a single game. As mentioned, Walker’s 94-yard run was not only the longest rushing touchdown in school history, but also the longest play from scrimmage in school history. Coghlin’s one field goal make also gave him the MSU record for most career field goals made.
.@Kenneth_Walker9 just ran the longest rushing TD and longest play from scrimmage in school history. MSU legend— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) October 9, 2021
Walker finished the day with 29 carries for 233 yards (his second 200-plus yard rushing game of the season) and a touchdown. Nailor had five catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Thorne was 16-for-27 (59.2 percent) passing for a career-high 339 yards (and back-to-back 300-plus yard passing games) with three touchdowns and an interception. This was just the fifth time in FBS history a team had a 200-yard rusher, 200-yard receiver and 300-yard passer.
Michigan State gained 588 total yards, compared to Rutgers’ 377 yards. The Michigan State defense had four sacks, including two from Barrow, and forced the one turnover.
Discipline was an issue for the Spartans today, though, as Michigan State was called for nine penalties for 68 yards, with several of those coming on special teams. However, MSU earned the victory and moved to 6-0 on the season.
Michigan State travels to Bloomington next week to take on the Indiana Hoosiers at noon on Saturday and the game will be broadcast on FS1.