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Michigan State Expects to Have Top WR Duo Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor for Peach Bowl



With star Kenneth Walker III opting out of the Peach Bowl, the Spartans’ offensive workload falls more heavily on the shoulders of quarterback Payton Thorne — and he’ll have both of his top targets back on the field against Pitt’s secondary.

Jayden Reed led Michigan State with 946 yards and eight touchdowns on 53 receptions this season, and he’ll be re-joined by the Spartans’ second-leading receiver Jalen Nailor, who missed MSU’s final four games of the regular season.

Nailor caught 31 balls for 587 yards and six touchdowns this season — including a 5-catch, 221-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Rutgers in October.

“I think obviously as you mentioned earlier in the year when you have both of those guys they’re obviously a couple of our top skilled guys and their playmaking ability speaks for itself,” Michigan State offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said Tuesday. “I think anytime you can have more than one, you hope that can challenge the defense a little bit by who they have to cover and things like that and put more stress on them.”

Thorne took a backseat to Walker for much of the 2021 season, allowing his backfield mate to run for over 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns, but without Walker’s production and presence, Thorne has the opportunity to show he can carry the Spartans’ offense.

“I think one of the key elements to our success this year has been the play of Payton Thorne,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it goes unseen what we ask him to do. But you’ve got to run the offense, you’ve got to manage the offense. And obviously, he has been blessed to have some unbelievable supporting cast with Ken and the receivers and the O line.”

And while backup tight end Tyler Hunt is questionable for the Peach Bowl, Michigan State still has Connor Heyward — the brother of Steelers’ All-Pro defensive end Cameron Heyward — as a lead tight end — catching 30 balls for 289 yards and a touchdown.

“Obviously, Connor Heyward will be the forefront of what we do,” Johnson said. “And then it’s going to be Maliq. And again Maliq was a little banged up earlier in the year which hurt him. But with Coach Gilmore and how he’s come along, I’ve been excited about him. He’s obviously a big skill athlete, and we’re obviously a little bit of a transition of how he’s been used in the past, but I think he’s working through that, and I see some really positive things coming from him.”

Maliq Carr will serve as Heyward’s complement, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end with six catches for 100 yards this season. Despite Walker’s absence, an offense led by Thorne and a solid group of pass-catchers has Johnson confident in his unit.

“I like where we’re at offensively,” Johnson said. “We’ve done some good things. And it’s been good here even in the interim after the final game against Penn State. We’ve had a chance to go back to the basics. And as the program’s built upon, and Mel talks about this all the time, is really that fundamentals and techniques.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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2 years ago

Walker was definitely a big part of the offense but people will see all the weapons we have on the perimeter now. Thorne is accurate and plays smart. I think people will be shocked at how good this offense still is. #gogreen

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