Slowik: Examining the emergence of the Spartans’ three-headed offensive monster


MSU quarterback Payton Thorne winds up for a deep throw in the Spartans’ 48-31 win over Western Kentucky on Oct. 2, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Zac Slowik, News Editorial Assistant

EAST LANSING— Through six weeks, the Michigan State Spartans have been able to put up massive numbers both on the ground and through the air due to the play of the three-headed monster on offense that includes running back Kenneth Walker and wideouts Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. This elite triumvirate has pushed the Spartans to score 30 or more points five times, as well as four 500-plus total yard offensive performances. 

Each week, Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III has found a way to seemingly raise the bar for the MSU offense. Currently, Walker is leading the country with 913 rushing yards and is fourth in the country with nine rushing scores. He is also first in the country with 670 rushing yards after contact. 

For reference, Syracuse halfback Sean Tucker is second in the country in rushing yards with 791, a 122-yard difference. 

Against Rutgers, Walker ran for 232 yards on 29 carries that included a 94-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. The 94-yard rushing score was the longest offensive play from scrimmage in school history. It was also the second time he has run for over 200 yards this season (Walker ran for 264 yards and four scores against Northwestern on Sept. 3). 

Coming into Week 6, wideout Jayden Reed, once the nation’s all-purpose yards leader, has arguably been the Spartans most dynamic offensive playmaker in terms of offensive and special teams play. Despite only having three catches for 29 yards against Rutgers, he is still leading the team with 492 receiving yards. 

MSU wide receiver Jayden Reed makes a sideline catch against No. 8 Northwestern on Nov. 28, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

In addition, Reed has notched eight overall touchdowns on the season (five catches, two punt returns and a rushing score). He is also eighth in the country with 917 all-purpose yards.

Junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor, who led the Spartans with 515 receiving yards in 2020, has burst onto the season over the last two weeks.

After starting slow in the first four weeks, with just 140 yards on 10 receptions, he has reeled in 13 catches for 349 receiving yards over the past two weeks.  

Against Rutgers, Nailor went for 221 receiving yards and three 60-plus yard scores; the 221-yard offensive performance was the fourth-highest mark in any game in school history. His three touchdown catches also tied a school record for a one-game performance. 

Even quarterback Payton Thorne has been exceptional with 14 passing touchdowns, two rushing scores and two consecutive 300-yard passing performances through the first six games of 2021. His 14 passing touchdowns are tied for the 11th-best mark in the nation and his QBR of 82.8 is the 10th-best mark in Division I.

The Spartans, currently No. 10 in the AP poll, and 6-0 on the season, will need to continue to rely on Walker, Reed and Nailor in order to make their Big Ten East title hopes a reality. 

Although MSU has the firepower to match up with anyone, all three players must show up in force with matchups against No. 8 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State looming.