MSU tailback Elijah Collins sets freshman milestone, but elusive TD awaits

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Elijah Collins really wanted the touchdown.

As the redshirt freshman turned his legs and dragged defenders toward the goal line, all he was thinking was getting that first touchdown as a Spartan. Instead, Collins was pulled down at the 1 and had to settle for his 192 yards on 17 carries in No. 19 Michigan State’s 51-17 victory over Western Michigan.

“I wanted it real bad,” Collins said. “That first one against Tulsa they kind of took it away from me, but this week, as you see I didn’t get in, so just trying to get there.”

Collins appeared to score on a 15-yard run in last week’s season-opener, but a holding penalty wiped out the play.

Michigan State redshirt freshman Elijah Collins ran for 192 yards on 17 carries against Western.

It didn’t take long on Saturday for Collins to show that disappointment was in the past, getting his first career start and running for 29 yards on Michigan State’s second offensive play. He ran for 11 yards on the next carry and Michigan State scored in four plays.

“It definitely took me to a different place or level,” Collins said of the first run. “But big credits to the offensive line and the receivers that were blocking up front. They did a tremendous job so shout out to those guys.”

The 192 yards Collins gained were the most by a freshman starter and the second-most in a game by a freshman, falling just 2 yards shy of Javon Ringer’s 194 against Illinois in 2005 when Ringer came off the bench.

“I thought Elijah had a big game,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Happy for him and our offensive line because they made it happen and our tight ends and everybody got involved.”

Collins knew by Wednesday that he was getting the start after junior Connor Heyward started last week. He ended up sharing duties as sophomore La’Darius Jefferson played the role of short-yardage back, scoring on runs of 2 and 1 yard. Junior Alante Thomas added a 1-yard score late while freshman Anthony Williams also saw action in the fourth quarter.

But it was Collins that stole the show.

“We sort of got the tailback by committee, and he's done a nice job and had some good carries last week so felt like let's start out with him,” offensive coordinator Brad Salem said. “And it's always been that way with Coach Dantonio and even when I was doing running backs back in 2010, 2011 and 2012 it was kind of whoever got hot. We had three guys at that time maybe four and it was who got hot and rolling, and so you know it's neat to see. Obviously you get a rusher over 100 yards, so it was a big day for him.”

Injury bug bites early

It didn’t take long for injuries to jump up and bite Michigan State’s wide receivers again.

Sophomore Jalen Nailor, who missed five games last season because of an injury, is out indefinitely after injuring his left leg this week in practice.

“I do not think he will miss the season,” Dantonio said on the pregame show, “but he will be out for a period of time. I’m pretty confident he will be back yet this season.”

Dantonio said the injury was a lower-leg injury that occurred during Wednesday’s practice. Sophomore CJ Hayes started in place of Nailor while junior Cody White took over as the primary punt returner.

Nailor caught three passes for just 5 yards in the season-opening victory over Tulsa. Playing as a true freshman in 2018, Nailor had eight receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns while running nine times for 128 yards, highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown run against Indiana.

The Spartans wide receivers were crippled by injuries last season as then senior Felton Davis, Darrell Stewart, Cody White, Nailor, Cam Chambers, Nelson, C.J. Hayes and Brandon Sowards all missed time because of injuries. Dantonio said this week that Chambers missed the Tulsa game because of an undisclosed injury.

Extra points

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory saw his first extensive action as junior Naquan Jones left the game with an undisclosed injury.

Sophomore cornerback Shakur Brown also did not play, but defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said he expected both back soon.

… Safety Xavier Henderson recorded his first interception on a pick in the end zone in the second quarter.

… Defensive end Kenny Willekes recorded five tackles, including two sacks. He  now has 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks this season.

…  Linebacker Tyriq Thompson recorded his second career interception and first of the season.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau