PISCATAWAY, NJ — After getting the ball rolling seven times in a loss to Rutgers last year, No. 11 Michigan State turned to a big-play approach with its new players. It worked to perfection.
Jalen Naylor caught touchdown passes for 63, 63 and 65 yards from Peyton Thorne and Kenneth Walker scored a school-record 94-yard run as the Spartans remained unbeaten on Saturday in a 31-13 win over the reeling Scarlet Knights.
Michigan State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is off to its best start as it won its first eight games in 2015, when it reached the college football playoffs.
“We still have many playmakers that you haven’t seen yet,” said Naylor, who took five catches for a career-best 221 yards, a stadium record. “We have a lot of young people who are emerging, but it’s happening more with the playbook and we’re working harder so far, just trying to get everyone on the same page.”
The defeat was the third time in a row for Rutgers (3–3) against opponents of all ranks. The Scarlet Knights fell two weeks ago to No. 9 Michigan and last week to No. 7 Ohio State. Overall, Rutgers has dropped the then-numbered 33-ranked teams straight away. 23 South Florida 31-0 on November 12, 2009.
“I look at this game, we skipped the big plays,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. “We left four big plays. We haven’t done that. We haven’t missed big plays. You skip big plays, it would be hard to do anything, right? You are behind the eight ball.”
Michigan State, which lost 38–27 to Rutgers at home in Mel Tucker’s debut as coach, rewrote a part of their record book in the game, and to an SHI stadium, Rutgers home.
Walker, leading the race for all Football Bowl subdivision players in the game, was the longest offensive game in Michigan state history. The last long run for the Spartans was 90 yards against Arizona by Lynn Chandnois in 1949; His longest pass play is 93 yards from Tony Banks to Nigia Carter against Indiana in 1994.
Walker finished with a run of 233 yards, his second 200-yard game of the season. He has 913 yards this season, averaging 152.2 per game.
Naylor’s 221 receiving broke the stadium mark of 207 set by Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.
Thorne scored a career-best 16 off 27 for 339 yards and three long TDs.
This was the fifth time in FBS history that a team had a 300-yard passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in the same game.
“It’s a word. Explosive,” Walker said of Michigan State’s offense, which ended 588 yards to 377 for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights took the lead twice early. He took a 7–0 lead on a 4-yard pass from Johnny Langan to Aaron Cruikshank when his defense thwarted a fake field goal attempt in the opening series.
A wide-open nailer tied the game after the first 63-yard TD, Val Ambrosio scored a 26-yard field goal to put the Scarlet Knights 10-7 ahead.
Michigan State needed only five plays to regain the lead, with Naylor making an over-the-shoulder catch at Rutgers 35 and cutting across the field to score.
A turnover set up Ambroio’s second short field goal and narrowed the lead to one, but Thorne and Naylor hooked on a flea-flicker on the first play of their next drive to the Spartans for a 21–13 lead. Thorne passed Walker, who returned to quarterback for a long scoring pass. Three TD receptions set a school record, having last met Cody White two years ago against Rutgers.
Walker opened the game in the middle of the third quarter with his 94-yard run. He went through a huge hole, smashed some tackle in front of the Michigan State Bench and slammed into the end zone, exchanging a fist pump with a nailer near the end zone.