BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When wide receiver Jalen Nailor scored his first career touchdown for Michigan State (2-1, 1-0 in Big Ten) Saturday night against Indiana (3-1, 0-1) at Memorial Stadium, he said he couldn’t put the moment into words.
Nailor actually scored two touchdowns over the night. The true freshman's first score - a 16-yard pass from quarterback Brian Lewerke - gave the 24th-ranked Spartans their first points of the game and a 7-0 lead with 8:11 left in the first quarter.
Nailor then appeared again at the end of the game, when MSU, up 28-21 with 3:28 left in the game, needed to pull away from the Hoosiers.
He took the handoff on a jet sweep, wide receiver Felton Davis III and tight end Matt Sokol held key blocks, and Nailor found the crease in Indiana's defense, taking it 75 yards to the endzone and giving the Spartans a 35-21 lead with 3:17 left in the game. During his run, Nailor said he thought “nobody was gonna catch (him).”
“Offensively, big plays — Nailor has those two big touchdowns and good execution by Lewerke on the one, and then Nailor and blocking does it all in the 75 yarder, which couldn’t have come at a better time,” coach Mark Dantonio said in his postgame news conference Saturday night. “It deflated everything for them.”
The 75-yard touchdown was also the majority of Nailor’s yardage Saturday night, as he carried the ball three times for 79 yards and caught the 16-yard pass, but turned in the two touchdowns.
“It just shows how much work I put in, how much the coaches trust me and that I can make plays for them,” Nailor said.
That 75-yard score showed why he earned the nickname “Speedy” and won four state titles in track his senior year at Bishop Gorman High School, along with helping the Gaels win their first-ever state track championship.
He can run, and his team knows it.
“We talk about ‘Speedy' — he’s one of the best players on our team,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “He’s a dynamic player, you saw that with his speed on the outside on the 75-yard run. Hopefully that builds his confidence a little more and makes more of a package for him.”
Nailor’s speed and talent is nothing new, quarterback Brian Lewerke said. Lewerke said he’s known it since the first day he stepped on campus.
“He’s been fantastic,” Lewerke said. “I knew that he was going to be a great player for us.”
Although he's received opportunities due to injuries to wide receivers Cam Chambers and Darrell Stewart Jr., Nailor said he’s had a hardworking mentality his entire life.
“I’ve always had a ball in my hands and made plays,” Nailor said. “So that’s what I did.”
And if Nailor keeps making these kind of plays - which Dantonio says he's been doing since summer camp - he could see an increase in playing time.
“He’s made plays throughout summer camp, and I think he’s made a couple plays in the last couple games,” Dantonio said. “He’s got good hands, he can run and obviously he’s got big-play ability, so we’ll take advantage of that.”