C.J. Hayes broke out of his route on third-and-four and sat down in the middle of the field. He found the soft spot in Western Michigan's defense. It was an easy pitch-and-catch for Lewerke that had first-down yardage.
Hayes made it a lot more than that.
Hayes quickly turned on the jets and converted a 10-yard gain into a 22-yard reception, setting the Spartans up at midfield. Hayes' number got called again on the next play, as Lewerke found him for another 10 yards, setting up his 42-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Stewart Jr. on the next play.
Hayes didn't put up the gaudy numbers that his senior counterpart did — or find the end zone — but, he was crucial at a thin position to help No. 19 Michigan State defeat Western Michigan 51-17.
During practice this week, Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio was looking for a receiver to step up after sophomore Jalen Nailor went down with a lower leg injury that will hold him out for a period of time. Dantonio said that he believes Nailor's injury won't be season-ending. Hayes said that, right after the injury, Dantonio motioned to him that it was his time.
"Coach told me about it right after it happened that I have to step up, time to show why I’m here,” Hayes said following MSU's win.
Hayes caught three passes for 31 yards against the Broncos in his commendable fill-in role. It was the first time Hayes had a reception since October 6, 2018 when he caught one pass for 13 yards in MSU's 29-19 loss to Northwestern. He also forced a pass interference penalty in the end zone of the Spartans' second drive of the game that was followed with a 2-yard touchdown plunge from La'Darius Jefferson on the next play.
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"It was great getting out there, trying to do the best I possibly can to help the team win and do all I can,” Hayes said.
Hayes — from Bowling Green, Kentucky — originally committed to Purdue but flipped to the Spartans just days before the 2017 National Signing Day period. He saw limited time last season after redshirting his first year. But, with Nailor out, it appeared Dantonio gave Hayes the first crack at expanded playing time.
“Certainly C.J. (Hayes) got an opportunity, and I thought he had a nice catch on the one and a nice run after catch, I’m not sure if he caught one after that," Dantonio said. "He has three catches for 31 yards so he did a nice job. He can catch the ball, he’s a big target. He’s a physical guy and he’s got good run after catch.”
The yards after the catch ability was what Hayes showcased best Saturday night against the Broncos, especially on his 22-yard reception. Hayes believes his speed is something that can help him find more opportunities on the field.
“In practice, it starts in practice," Hayes said "Coach Tread (Treadwell) made an emphasis of getting off the ball, release, try to make plays, make it easy for Brian (Lewerke) and make plays.”
When Hayes was on the field Saturday night, he found a way to make plays when his opportunity came. He wasn't just a filler — he was effective in his role. His run after the catch ability made him a bigger threat down the field.
And Hayes knows that's an attribute that he needs to use to his advantage to continue to find more time on the field.
“Just trying to make the biggest play I possibly can, to get all that I can to help the team win," Hayes said. "The offensive line did a great job today, and Brian had enough time to throw the ball.”
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