During a Tuesday press conference in preparation for the upcoming Peach Bowl, Michigan State offensive coordinator Jay Johnson confirmed that wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed will both be available for the Spartans.
Nailor has not played since Oct. 30, when he was injured late in the first half during the 37-33 win over rival Michigan. Reed, meanwhile, has not missed any full games but did not appear to be at 100 precent in the outings against Ohio State and Penn State to end the season.
Johnson is excited to get both of Michigan State’s top receiving playmakers on the field again at the same time.
“Earlier in the year, when you have both of those guys, they’re obviously a couple of our top skill guys,” Johnson said. “Their playmaking ability speaks for itself. Any time that you can have more than one, you hope that can challenge a defense a little bit by who they have to cover, and things like that, and put more stresses on them. I think that’s going to be a big, huge key for us, having both those guys being active and their playmaking abilities.”
Having Nailor available again will certainly benefit quarterback Payton Thorne, who has been missing a few other targets in the pass game as well. Tight end Tyler Hunt, who has split reps with Connor Heyward and others at the position, did not play in the Penn State game and is listed as ‘doubtful’ for the Peach Bowl.
With young tight ends Trenton Gillison and Kameron Allen having both entered the transfer portal, Michigan State is severely limited in their depth at the position.
“Obviously, Connor Heyward will certainly be the forefront of what we do, and then it’s going to be Maliq [Carr],” Johnson said. “Those are going to be the main two that will carry the load at that position, and we’re excited about that.”
Carr, a redshirt freshman who transferred to the program from Purdue, has experienced his own setbacks due to injury, but Johnson is excited about his development and sees him playing an important role for the Spartans, both in this bowl game and in the future.
“Maliq was a little bit banged up really early in the year, which kind of hurt him,” Johnson said. “But now, with [tight ends] Coach [Ted] Gilmore and how he’s come along, I’ve been excited about him. He’s obviously really a big skill athlete, and we’re in a transition of how he’s been used in the past, but he’s working through that and I see a lot of positive things coming from him.”
With star tailback Kenneth Walker opting out of the bowl game, combined with a Pittsburgh defense that has been very stout against the run, Michigan State’s passing attack may have to carry the day against the Panthers.
Thorne has his two favorite targets available in Nailor and Reed, as well as receivers Tre Mosley and Montorie Foster – who has taken on a bigger role in the absence of Nailor. Heyward is a reliable veteran, while Carr is a youngster bursting with potential. It’ll be interesting to see how Johnson utilizes these various and diverse weapons in the Peach Bowl.