Michigan State's Nailor takes fast track to end zone

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's Jalen Nailor breaks loose for a long run and the touchdown that put the game out of reach.

Bloomington, Ind. — Jalen Nailor didn’t expect things to be happening this quickly.

The Las Vegas native has only been on Michigan State’s campus for a couple of months, but it hasn’t taken the speedster long to start making an impact for the Spartans.

On Saturday in No. 24 Michigan State’s 35-21 victory over Indiana in the Big Ten opener, the freshman wide receiver went from bit player to difference-maker, scoring his first career touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Brian Lewerke in the first quarter, then putting the game away with a 75-yard touchdown run with just more than three minutes to play.

“No, this isn’t what I expected,” Nailor said. “When I came in I knew I had to work hard and how much work I had to put in. It’s a blessing.”

Nailor had one catch in each of the first two games and finished with just one reception on Saturday. He had three carries for 79 yards and outran the defense on the final score

“I’m just thinking, ‘Nobody is gonna catch me. I’m gone,’” Nailor said.

More: Injuries force MSU to scramble lineup in win over Indiana

Running like the wind is something that comes natural for Nailor, who was a state champion at Bishop Gorman High as a senior in the 100 and 200 meters for the track team.

“He made plays for us throughout summer camp and then made some plays the last couple of games,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s got good hands, can run. Obviously, he’s got some big-play ability so we want to take advantage of that.”

Nailor got a few more snaps on Saturday because of injuries to receivers Darrell Stewart and Cam Chambers. But with his performance, odds are the opportunities will keep coming.

“It just shows how much work I’ve put in and how much coaches trust me and that I can make plays for them,” Nailor said. “(Explosiveness) is something I’ve always had and I know when I have the ball in my hands I can make plays.”

Getting tricky

Dantonio has built a reputation for calling trick plays, and on Saturday, he had another up his sleeve as kicker Matt Coghlin scored a 6-yard touchdown when he took a pitch from quarterback Brian Lewerke.

“At some point as the head football coach you’ve got to take same chances, too,” Dantonio said. “You can’t put it all on the players. We were down there and had been playing very good defense so if they had to drive 96 yards or whatever it was for a touchdown they were gonna have to earn that.

“So I felt like this is the time. I told my football team don’t be surprised when we fake one. I don’t want to let them down too often so that’s what we did.”

Coghlin said he’s pretty sure he hasn’t scored a touchdown since third grade, so he was surprised the play was called.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Coghlin. “I was telling Lewerke, like, ‘Hey, I’m there if you need me,’ but obviously he’s the superior athlete, so … I don’t know. I was shocked. I still don’t really believe it.”

And what was the play called?

“Rocks,” Dantonio said. “Don’t ask me why.”

The hunt for a punter

Michigan State had a new name on the roster.

With fifth-year senior punter Jake Hartbarger out with a leg injury, the Spartans were planning to turn to backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi to handle the punting duties in the Big Ten opener. However, it was redshirt freshman Tyler Hunt and walk-on Bryce Baringer who took over.

Hunt, who joined the team last year, punted four times for an average of 38.8 yards. Baringer, who just joined the team last week, punted twice for a 34-yard average.

“The other two guys punted better,” Dantonio said of why he didn’t use Lombardi. “He’s still capable and we may go back to him. We’ve got another guy at home who punted well this week, we just couldn’t take four punters with us and decide between four.”

Baringer, a Waterford native who graduated from Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac, attended Southern Illinois and Illinois last year and was on the Fighting Illini’s roster in 2017. However, he left the program after the season ended and enrolled at Michigan State last spring.

Extra points

It was a big night for redshirt freshman cornerback Shakur Brown, who not only got his first career interception, but he returned it 69 yards for a touchdown, a play that gave MSU a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. “I was thinking, ‘Oh yeah, this is to the crib,’” Brown said. “Nobody was catching me.”

… Redshirt freshman defensive end Jack Camper got his first career start, finishing with a half tackle for loss.

… Former Michigan State linebacker Mike Labinjo died, his former CFL team, the Calgary Stampeders, announced on Saturday. Labinjo played at Michigan State from 2000-03. He played 10 games over three season in the NFL before winning a Grey Cup with Calgary in 2007. A cause of death was not announced.


Twitter @mattcharboneau