Michigan State WR Jalen Nailor to return for Peach Bowl; opportunity knocks for Maliq Carr

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

For anyone following Michigan State’s social media accounts, this won’t come as a big surprise.

But after missing the final four games of the season with a hand injury, junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor will be back on the field for No. 10 Michigan State when it faces No. 12 Pittsburgh on Thursday night in the Peach Bowl.

Michigan State wide receiver Jalen Nailor.

Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson confirmed that on Tuesday morning, but Nailor has been seen on several videos, from practices on campus and on site at the Peach Bowl to team activities over the last couple days.

Add that to the fact wide receiver Jayden Reed will be playing, and the Spartans’ offense will be as close to full strength as it can be with running back Kenneth Walker III opting out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.

“I think that's going to be a huge key for us is having both those guys being active and their play-making abilities,” Johnson said.

Nailor has 37 receptions this season for 587 yards and six touchdowns. That production, however, came in just eight games. Actually, it was seven-and-a-half games as he missed the second half of the Michigan game after catching four passes for 75 yards in the first half of the victory over the Wolverines. A hand injury kept him out the rest of the way in the win over Michigan, as well as the final four games of the season.

Meanwhile, Reed did his best to carry the load the rest of the way as he finished the regular season with 53 catches for 964 yards and eight touchdowns. He was bothered by injuries, too, missing the second half of the Ohio State game with a boot on his right foot but returning to make six grabs for 89 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Penn State.

“When you have both of those guys, they're obviously a couple of our top skilled guys and their playmaking ability speaks for itself,” Johnson said. “I think any time you can have more than one, you hope that can challenge the defense a little bit by who they have to cover and things like that and put more stresses on them.”

While Walker has made his decision about next season, but Reed has not.

The redshirt junior receiver said on Tuesday he’ll talk about his future after Thursday’s game.

Excitement brews for Carr

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said Sunday that tight end Tyler Hunt is doubtful to play on Thursday after he missed the Penn State game with an undisclosed injury.

That means fifth-year senior Connor Heyward will get the majority of snaps at tight end against Pitt, but with Trenton Gillisonin the transfer portal and playing his final game with the Spartans, the opportunities for redshirt freshman Maliq Carr will increase.

“Maliq was a little banged up earlier in the year which hurt him,” offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said. “But with (tight ends) Coach (Ted) Gilmore and how he's come along, I've been excited about him. He's obviously a big-skill athlete, and we're obviously in a little bit of a transition of how he's been used in the past, but I think he's working through that, and I see some really positive things coming from him.

“Excited about where Maliq's at and this extra time has been very positive for him.

Pitt misses Walker

While Michigan State surely will miss having Walker in the lineup, the Panthers are at least a little bit disappointed they won’t get a shot at stopping one of the nation’s top backs.

After all, Pitt ranks sixth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 91.8 yards a game.

“He has had an amazing year this year, and he's a great running back and a top draft prospect,” Pitt linebacker Sirvocea Dennis said. “When you think about going against a guy like that, it's just amazing, and it kind of makes the game exciting. And I know our Kenny (Pitt QB Kenny Pickett) is out as well, so it's not a complete game. But with those two guys, if they played, it would be an amazing game and an amazing experience.”

Spartans sweep

The competition hasn’t all been on the field.

On Monday night, Michigan State won the team trivia event, sweeping its way to a victory and grabbing the championship belt in the Battle for Bowl Week competition. The Spartans also won the basketball challenge on Saturday and the go-kart racing on Sunday.

“It was fun. It was really competitive,” Johnson said. “I think our guys really enjoyed it. It was kind of a neat deal. I'll be honest, I've never been involved in that. Had a chance to go to a lot of different bowls, but I think it's a neat perspective from the Peach Bowl perspective that they do that.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau