PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Welcome to the beginning of fall, a.k.a. Heisman Trophy season, where breakout performances on the gridiron start to garner a little more focus as conference play settles in, and on Saturday afternoon, Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III and receiver Jalen Nailor put up video game numbers that put every Heisman voter on notice.
Walker rushed for 223 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown, while Nailor caught three touchdown passes on his way to 221 receiving yards as No. 11 Michigan State turned a tight game early against Rutgers into a comfortable 31-13 victory at SHI Stadium. The Spartans came back from two first-half deficits to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2015, a season that saw Michigan State win its first eight games, capture the Big Ten Championship and reach the College Football Playoff.
Performances like the ones Walker III and Nailor put up are allowing Spartan fans to dream that another magical season, like 2015, is afoot. After Rutgers took its first drive of the game 72 yards before scoring on a four-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Langan to Aaron Cruickshank, the Spartans took all of two plays to answer with a touchdown of their own. A 12-yard run by Walker was followed by the first of three touchdown throws by quarterback Payton Thorne to Nailor, a 63-yard strike to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the first.
The same trend continued in the second quarter, where Rutgers scores were followed by immediate Thorne-to-Nailor touchdowns. Valentino Ambrosio’s go-ahead 26-yard field goal at the 12:20 mark of the second was erased 78 seconds later with a perfect deep ball down the right sideline from Thorne to Nailor, with the latter stopping on a dime after making the catch before running across the field to complete his second 63-yard score of the game and a 14-10 Michigan State lead. When Abrosio’s 29-yard field goal cut Michigan State’s lead to 14-13 with 6:32 in the second, the Thorne-to-Nailor duo took even less time to respond, with their 65-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown coming on the next play from scrimmage.
Nailor ended the first half with four catches for 208 yards and those three scores.
Walker III, who began the season with a 264-yard, four-touchdown effort at Northwestern, eclipsed 200 yards again and, in the process, scored on the longest play from scrimmage in school history when he juked his way down the left sideline on a 94-yard run midway through the third quarter to give the Spartans some breathing room at 28-13. Walker, who also rushed for 172 yards at Miami, has 903 rushing yards after six games this season and has averaged 219.7 yards rushing in his three road contests in 2021.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday afternoon’s contest, with photos taken by ALOST photographer Carmelita Alfaro. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 13 pictures in total.