Sunday, February 25, 2024

Hayes shines with touchdowns

Sophomore running back Jaren Hayes runs toward the end zone as Rutgers defensive back Bryan Durango pursues him on Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Scarlet Knights 44-28. —

While most receivers contemplate their next move as they snatch the ball out of the air, Jaren Hayes is just praying he'll catch it.

Perhaps Hayes' new style of play was inspired by his team's new nickname Saturday, for he was lining up for the Aggies, not the Spartans.

Or maybe it was the chance to shine after starting running back Tyrell Dortch left the game in the second quarter because of a sprained ankle.

But ask Hayes and he'll tell you he doesn't care where he played, or even how, just as long as the team, Aggies or Spartans, won.

"In the first touchdown I scored, I was just praying that I was going to catch the ball and try and get some yards. I just want to go out there and help the team win. It doesn't matter if I'm running or catching."

The sophomore running back scored his first two career touchdown receptions, leading MSU to victory over Rutgers. Hayes racked up 96 receiving yards on six catches and 48 yards rushing on 13 carries.

It should come as no surprise to the statistic-memorizing Spartan that Hayes would produce such versatile numbers this season.

Hayes ranked second on the team in all-purpose yards with 941 last season, only trailing Charles Rogers, who enjoyed a successful weekend as well with the Detroit Lions.

The Lebanon, Penn., native played in all 12 games in 2002 and was one of eight true freshmen to earn a letter. Hayes was used mainly as the back-up running back and kick returner last season.

Yet after the departure of veteran offensive weapons, including Rogers and running backs Dawan Moss and David Richard and the sudden emergence of DeAndra Cobb at the kick-return spot, Hayes finds himself as one of the go-to-guys in the new spread offense.

Before the season began, head coach John L. Smith said that he wouldn't run any duo running back sets. So both Hayes and Dortch, along with Jason Teague, have seen equal time at the position that they are constantly pressuring each other for.

Hayes is certainly making a case for himself after creating some game-breaking plays in the last two games.

Against the Broncos, Hayes didn't record any receptions, but the first time he touched the ball, he took off for 43 yards down the sideline, setting up the touchdown that would send the Spartans into the locker room with a 23-14 lead.

Hayes only rushed five more times in the season opener, gaining 12 more yards for a total of 51 yards on the day, leaving him with an average of 7 yards per carry.

The 5-9, 184-pounder got on the board early against Rutgers, reeling in a pass from senior quarterback Jeff Smoker and then sprinting down the sideline for a 51-yard score to tie the game five minutes into the first quarter.

Hayes scored again in the second quarter to give the Spartans a lead they wouldn't give up. This time, though, Hayes caught the ball close to the line of scrimmage and broke a few tackles, including two in the middle of a pile near the 10-yard line, and then sped into the end zone.

His running game wasn't as productive, though, breaking open only one rush for more than 15 yards (an 18-yarder in the closing minutes of the second quarter). The Spartans' leading rusher turned out to be Teague, who tallied 87 yards, all of which came in the second half.


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