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Rutgers football falls to No. 11 Michigan State

The Rutgers football team fell to Michigan State 31-13, losing its third straight game after winning three to start the season.  – Photo by Emma Garibian

The Rutgers football team lost its third straight game on Saturday in a 31-13 defeat to Michigan State. The loss keeps the Scarlet Knights (3-3, 0-3) winless in Big Ten play and drops the program to a .500 win percentage for the first time this season.

The story of the game for the No. 11 Spartans (6-0, 3-0) was big plays that resulted in points. After junior wide receiver Aron Cruickshank found the end zone to give Rutgers the first points of the game, Payton Thorne immediately found Jalen Nailor for a 63-yard touchdown on the next drive to tie the game.

Before the end of the half, Thorne and Nailor would connect on two more 60-plus yard touchdown passes to bring Nailor to 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns in just the first half. Michigan State would take a 21-13 lead into the halftime break.

For the third straight weekend, the Knights would finish the game with only 13 points while the Spartans would score one more touchdown on another big play.

With less than 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Kenneth Walker III found space and rushed in for a 94-yard touchdown to give Michigan State a 15-point lead. The touchdown now stands as the record for the longest touchdown run in the history of SHI Stadium.

Rutgers also faced multiple apparent injuries. Cruickshank, senior quarterback Noah Vedral and junior defensive back Christian Izien all left the game in the second half.

After the game, head football coach Greg Schiano said Cruickshank has a shoulder injury, joining senior wide receiver and teammate Bo Melton who missed today’s game with a shoulder injury of his own. Melton and Cruickshank are the team’s leading receivers so far this season.

Despite the injury, Vedral finished the day with 208 passing yards but was sacked four times. Vedral also finished as the team’s leading rusher, thanks in large part to a career-long 33-yard run on the Knights’ first drive of the game.

“Right now we're figuring it out. He was injured. With time, it felt better. We asked him to throw,” Schiano said when asked about Vedral’s late-game injury. “I didn't see any of this. I was coaching. And we looked at it, and (offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson) just didn't feel like he was sharp enough to put back in the game.”

In the receiving department, senior wide receiver Shameen Jones was one of two wide-outs from both teams to reach triple-digit receiving yards in the game. Cruickshank was the only Rutgers receiver to score a touchdown.

Looking at the Spartans, Thorne, Walker and Nailor each had big days in their respective categories. Thorne finished with a season-high 339 passing yards and three touchdowns while Walker rushed for 233 yards and a touchdown. Walker also averaged eight yards per carry.

As for Nailor, the wide receiver registered the sixth 200-yard receiving game in Michigan State history, finishing with five receptions for 221 yards and three touchdowns. It is the fifth time in the Football Bowl Subdivision's history that a team has finished with a 300-yard passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in the same game.

“We gave up four big plays. We haven't done that. We haven't given up big plays. You give up big plays, it's going to be hard to do anything, right?” Schiano said. “I thought we did some things offensively that I was happy with. We are missing some guys, but that's the way college football goes, right? You have to play with who you have.”

Next Saturday, the Knights will travel to Evanston, Illinois, to face Northwestern. The game will kick off at noon and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.

“We had an opportunity to win for the better part of this football game even though we didn't play well in areas. Some guys did play well, but in areas, we didn't play well enough to win. And that's why we didn't win.” Schiano said. “Got a lot of football left. After six games, we're back to neutral. So here we go.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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