MSU's Shelton reels in Cook air strikes for 2 TDs

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Connor Cook gets the hype, and he should, given he throws one pass after another in the perfect spot.

MSU wide receiver R.J. Shelton makes a touchdown catch over Indiana's Jameel Cook, Jr. in the first quarter.

That doesn't mean they're in the perfect spot for receivers, though.

Michigan State's receivers have to make plays.

"Those are hard catches, hard, contested catches they're making," Cook said following Michigan State's 52-26 victory over Indiana on Saturday at Spartan Stadium. "It's not like I'm hitting a whole lot of wide-open guys."

Aaron Burbridge has been Cook's go-to guy, especially last week against Michigan.

But R.J. Shelton came up big against Indiana, catching a pair of touchdown passes — both, interestingly, on the same play.

In the first quarter, with MSU down 7-0, Cook found Shelton in the right corner of the end zone — Shelton jumping up over two defenders to haul in the 22-yard reception. And in the fourth quarter, with MSU clinging to a 31-26 lead, the Cook-Shelton connection showed up again, back in the right corner of the end zone, this time 13 yards in single coverage.

That was the killer for Indiana, as it came on third-and-9 — and a stop would've kept it a one-possession game.

"I believe the play was the same thing we scored on in the first half," said Dave Warner, co-offensive coordinator. "That play, it's a go-to play for us. We vary it and camouflage it a little bit, but it's a little bit of a go-to play for us when we get down in the red zone.

Burbridge and Josiah Price also caught TD passes for the Spartans (8-0), who saw seven different receivers catch a Cook pass Saturday. Burbridge led the way with eight catches for 128 yards, Shelton had six catches for 76 yards and Macgarrett Kings had seven catches for 69 yards.

"We always talk about who you're go-to guys are, and we're fortunate enough to have a handful of go-to receivers, one who's a tight end," Warner said. "it's sort of a staple of our offense down there."

For Shelton, a junior who had left the stadium before reporters had a chance to catch up with him, those were the sixth and seventh touchdowns of his career — with four of them receptions.

He also has two rushing TDs and one on a kickoff return.

Speaking of kickoff returns, Shelton came up big for a beleaguered special-teams unit.

On the opening kick of the second half, Shelton took it about a step into the end zone, came bursting out and found a hole on his right — scampering for 58 yards. That was a huge boost for an MSU team that only led by a point at halftime.

Less than four minutes later, MSU was in the end zone again.

That was the third-longest kickoff return of Shelton's career, and his longest since the regular-season finale against Penn State last year, when he went 90 yards for a touchdown.

"We played better on special teams," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. "Our wide receivers had big catches."R.J. Shelton had a big night."