Piscataway, NJ—Rutgers was just a few big plays away from challenging the Spartans, but linebacker Cal Haladay gave the Scarlet Knights’ offense fits all game long.
Haladay and the No. 11 Michigan State Spartans won its sixth straight game, beating Rutgers 31-13 at SHI Stadium.
The sophomore backer, who finished with four tackles, had to sit out the first half after getting ejected in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s win over Western Kentucky.
The previous long run for Michigan State was 90 yards by Lynn Chandnois in 1949 against Arizona; their longest pass play is a 93-yarder from Tony Banks to Nigea Carter against Indiana in 1994.
It was Walker’s second 200-yard game of the season. He has 913 yards this season, an average of 152.2 per game.
After turning the ball over seven times in a loss to Rutgers last year, the Spartans went into the big-play approach with its new set of players. It worked.
MSU (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is off to its best start since it won its first eight games in 2015, when it reached the College Football Playoff.
”We still have multiple playmakers that y’all haven’t seen yet,” said Nailor, who finished with five catches for a career-best 221 yards, a stadium record. ”We have a lot of young guys that are emerging, but it’s just getting more in tune with the playbook and we’ve just been working hard, just trying to get everybody on the same page so far.”
The loss was the third straight for the Scarlet Knights (3-3), all against ranked opponents. Rutgers lost to No. 9 Michigan two weeks ago and No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes last week. Overall, RU has dropped 33 straight games to ranked teams since beating then-No. 23 South Florida 31-0 on Nov. 12, 2009.
Thorne finished 16 of 27 for a career-best 339 yards and the three long touchdowns.
It was the fifth time in FBS history a team has had a 300-yard passer, a 200-yard rusher and a 200-yard receiver in the same game.
”It’s one word. Explosive,” Walker said of the Michigan State offense, which finished with 588 yards to 377 for Rutgers.
RU twice had the lead early. They took a 7-0 advantage on a 4-yard pass from quarterback Johnny Langan to Aron Cruickshank after their defense botched a fake field goal attempt on the opening series.
Thorne, then hit a wide open Nailor for a 63-yard TD to tie the game, Val Ambrosio kicked a 26-yard field goal to put Rugters ahead 10-7.
The Spartans scored in five plays to retake the lead, with Nailor making a nice over-the-shoulder catch at the Rutgers 35-yard line and cutting across the turf to score.
A turnover set up Ambroio’s second short field goal and cut the lead to one, but Thorne and Nailor hooked up on a flea-flicker on the Spartans’ first play of their next drive for a 21-13 lead. Thorne handed off to Walker, who pitched back to the quarterback for the long scoring pass. The three TD receptions tied a school record, last matched by Cody White against Rutgers two years ago.
Walker blew the game open half way through the third with his 94-yard run. He went through a huge hole, broke a couple of tackles in front the Michigan State bench and burst to the end zone.
”I look at this game, we gave up big plays,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. ”We gave up four big plays. We haven’t done that. We haven’t given up big plays. You give up big plays, it’s going to be hard to do anything, right? You’re behind the 8-ball.”
Michigan State: At Indiana next Saturday.
Rutgers: At Northwestern next Saturday.