STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Mel Tucker had a question for his team on Friday night.
The first-year Michigan State coach wanted to know if Harold Carmichael would be in the lineup on Saturday at Penn State. Naming Carmichael – a 6-foot-8 Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver who played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1971-83 – was a reference to Tre’Von Morgan, who stands 6-foot-7.
Morgan was in the lineup on Saturday and his first career reception was a very notable one. The redshirt freshman receiver hauled in a 26-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter of Saturday’s 39-24 loss against the Nittany Lions.
“I just tried to put it over his shoulder for him, in a place where he could make the catch, and fortunately he went and made a play,” Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne said. “I was excited to see that and I thought it was a good catch.”
Morgan had knee surgery last summer, which sidelined him for his entire true freshman season. He appeared in three games earlier this year but didn’t have a catch before Saturday’s leaping grab in the end zone between a pair of defenders and finished with two receptions for 46 yards.
“We’re really excited to have him back I thought he made a really good catch on the touchdown,” Thorne said. “He’s been really working in practice and you’ve got to do it in practice before you can do it on Saturdays and before the coaches trust to put you out there. Credit to him for working the way he has.”
Morgan’s impressive catch was a highlight for the Spartans (2-5) on a day in which the offense produced in the first half but not in the second. And in addition to Thorne throwing for 325 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start, there were other bright spots in the passing game. Jalen Nailor finished with six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Jayden Reed had six receptions for 76 yards.
“We’ve been optimistic about our receiving crew all year and we’ve worked to develop guys. … We feel like we’ve got some weapons out there,” Tucker said.
Michigan State trailed 3-0 early in the second quarter when Nailor sparked the offense by getting behind the defense for a 45-yard touchdown catch. He scored on a 7-yard grab later in the quarter.
“When I talked to him during the game he said that he was getting a lot of soft coverage,” Tucker said of Nailor, “so we were able to hit him underneath and then he was able to catch the ball, tight turn, get some yards after the catch and things like that.”
Nailor, a former state champion sprinter from Las Vegas, was limited by injuries to only 12 games over his first two seasons at Michigan State. The redshirt sophomore now has 26 catches for a team-high 515 yards and four touchdowns this year.
The explosiveness Nailor brings has been evident since he arrived on campus and continues to show in a healthy season. He has seven of Michigan State’s 18 receptions of at least 20 yards this year, two 100-yard games and is averaging 19.8 yards per catch. And after Thorne threw an interception on his first pass attempt against Penn State, Nailor tracked down Jaquan Brisker to force a fumble that was recovered by right guard Matt Carrick.
“Jalen is growing as a player and he’s actually becoming a leader, not just a playmaker, but he’s starting to lead,” Tucker said. “He plays with confidence and you can see he’s not just a deep threat.”
Related Michigan State football stories: