Friday, October 15, 2021

HALF: Michigan State offense explodes, leads Rutgers 21-13

October 9, 2021
<p>MSU catches an interception in the first half of a game against Rutgers at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 24, 2020.</p>

MSU catches an interception in the first half of a game against Rutgers at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 24, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

After a spooky start for Michigan State, the team settled in and leads Rutgers 21-13 in Piscataway, New Jersey.

MSU attempts more early trickery

Starting the game with the ball, Michigan State moved down the field efficiently with big chunks from running back junior Kenneth Walker III and junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor. The drive stalled at the Rutgers 25 yard line and the field goal unit took the field.

The Spartans continued their joy of aggressive play calling on the opening drive of games, this time with a fake field goal. Redshirt senior punter Bryce Baringer fielded the snap, rolled out to his right and had nowhere to go with the ball. Rutgers was prepared for the fake, and took over on downs.

Riding with some momentum from the fourth down stop, the Scarlet Knights marched down the field with ease, including a conversion on third and 18. Rutgers then went with the wildcat on first and goal and wide receiver Aron Cruickshank scored on a touch pass from four yards out.

Michigan State defense struggling to tackle

"Bend don't break" has been the defensive style for the Spartans through five games. That strategy is hard to execute though when you are not wrapping up and MSU has struggled to do that so far. Rutgers' senior quarterback Noah Vedral looked quite slippery on the opening drive breaking multiple tackles for a 33-yard run that set up the Rutgers touchdown.

The first half absence of redshirt freshman linebacker Cal Haladay, who was ejected in the second half last week and is one of the team's leading tacklers, was felt. Redshirt junior linebacker Ben VanSumeren got the start in Haladay's place while redshirt senior linebacker Noah Harvey also got into the mix, but Haladay's return in the second half should be a big help.

However, Michigan State has done a good job generating pressure up front from the defensive line. Vedral has been in duress all half and has been sacked twice. Had some of the tackling been better, there is a solid chance that number would be higher.

Michigan State offense benefiting from explosive plays

Following Rutgers' three scores, first a touchdown then two field goals in the second quarter, MSU has had quick answers for both with a pair of drives taking less than two minutes. First after Rutgers' touchdown, the Spartans ran a fake wide receiver screen to junior wide receiver Jayden Reed. One of the Rutgers cornerbacks bit on the fake and Nailor beat him down the left sideline for a 63-yard touchdown.

Then in the second quarter, Rutgers took a 10-7 lead on a chip shot field goal, and again MSU answered with a long touchdown. From a box score standpoint, it was the exact same thing: a 63-yard touchdown from Nailor. He caught the ball down the right sideline, cutback to the left, and raced past a pair of Rutgers defenders for his second touchdown of the half.

But, he was not done there. Following a Rutgers field goal to cut the MSU lead to 14-13, Michigan State broke out the old reliable flea flicker, and it worked for the third time this season. Nailor hesitated down the right sideline, then burst past a Rutgers cornerback for a 65-yard touchdown. Nailor set the SHI Stadium record for most receiving yards in a half with 208 yards.

Rutgers will begin the half with the ball.

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