Here's why Michigan State football's Cal Haladay may be the defensive MVP this year

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The difference Cal Haladay made on Michigan State football’s defense was stark.

The sophomore linebacker returned from a first-half targeting suspension to help the 11th-ranked Spartans shut out Rutgers after halftime in Saturday’s 31-13 victory at SHI Stadium.

Haladay, who finished with four tackles, had to sit out the first half after getting ejected in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s win over Western Kentucky.

“He plays hard, he knows the defense, he knows where he's supposed to be. He can play fast, and he's a tackler,” MSU coach Mel Tucker said. “It's always good when we have productive players and they're able to go out there and play.”

Michigan transfer Ben VanSumeren started alongside Quavaris Crouch, then fellow senior Noah Harvey took over for the later part of the first half. Freshman Ma’a Gaoteote also got a few snaps.

Oct 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights running back Kyle Monangai (23) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory (94) as offensive lineman David Nwaogwugwu (58) and offensive lineman Cedrice Paillant (54) block during the second half at SHI Stadium.
Oct 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights running back Kyle Monangai (23) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory (94) as offensive lineman David Nwaogwugwu (58) and offensive lineman Cedrice Paillant (54) block during the second half at SHI Stadium.

However, Haladay’s return jolted a defense that gave up 182 first-half yards. MSU held the Scarlet Knights without a first down on their first four possessions of the second half.

“It does matter who's out there. At any position, on any team, on offense, defense and special teams, it does matter who you're playing with,” Tucker said. “And fortunately, were able to play multiple guys. We have more depth than we had last year.”

Those early stops allowed the offense to extend the Spartans’ lead to 28-13 after its own sluggish start to the half when Kenneth Walker III broke off a school record 94-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.

Rutgers got 117 of its 195 second-half yards on two drives that both ended with turnovers on downs at MSU’s 8 late in the third quarter and at the Spartans’ 31 with 21 seconds to play.

“Obviously the first half didn't really go how we wanted it. But at the end of the day, we always just want to keep going,” said sophomore Darius Snow, who posted a career-high nine tackles in his second straight start at nickel back. “And I think that we kept building off intensity that the offense brought and we brought and just kept it through the entire half.”

Suspended player files lawsuit

An MSU football player is suing the school, alleging it violated his rights by leaving him on indefinite suspension while it dragged its feet on a sexual assault complaint investigation involving him.

The player, identified in the suit only as John Doe, is a sophomore on a full football scholarship at MSU, according to the complaint filed Friday in the U.S. District Court's Western Michigan district.

A female student alleged he and another MSU football player sexually assaulted her in January 2021, according to the suit. The player suing the university said the sexual encounter was consensual.

The university notified the plaintiff and began investigating, as it was required to do under Title IX rules, but hasn't completed the grievance process or submitted the case to those making a final decision, the suit said.

"Michigan State Athletics does not have a comment on pending litigation," the school said in a statement released Saturday.

The player remains suspended from the football team and hasn't been able to practice or travel with the team, the suit said.

The player alleges his suspension from the team before a final determination is made on the sexual assault complaint is illegal. He also said MSU "has been unresponsive" to his demands that he be reinstated until the grievance process is completed.

Oct 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Brandon Sanders (12) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans cornerback Marqui Lowery (9) during the second half at SHI Stadium.
Oct 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Brandon Sanders (12) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans cornerback Marqui Lowery (9) during the second half at SHI Stadium.

Injury updates

MSU got back cornerback Marqui Lowery and defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory from undisclosed injuries.

Lowery got a significant amount of snaps at cornerback and finished with two tackles. The 6-foot, 175-pound redshirt freshman had not played since making his debut as a Spartan on special teams against Northwestern in the Sept. 3 season opener.

“We were able to get him going, because he had been a little banged up,” Tucker said. “Obviously, you see his ability to cover and things like that. He's got really good feet, balance and body control. He's a willing tackler. That's another player that we have that we can play and have confidence in that can help us, help our defense and help our football team.”

Mallory, who did not play in last week’s 48-31 win over Western Kentucky, returned with five tackles, one shy of his career high set last season against Penn State.

MSU played without starting defensive end Drew Beesley for the second straight game after suffering a right foot injury, while fellow senior Jack Camper missed his third in a row and redshirt freshman Itayvion Brown sat his fifth straight with undisclosed injuries.

Others who did not travel to Rutgers included running back Elijah Collins, tight end Adam Berghorst, wide receiver Ricky White and freshmen offensive linemen from New Jersey Geno VanDeMark and Kevin Wigenton II.

Record boot

Michigan State's Matt Coghlin, right, celebrates after kicking the game-winning field goal against Nebraska during overtime on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
Michigan State's Matt Coghlin, right, celebrates after kicking the game-winning field goal against Nebraska during overtime on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

Matt Coghlin had two first-half chances to break a tie with Brett Swenson for the school field goals record.

The first was a fake that went nowhere. The second, after a pair of Greg Schiano timeouts to ice Coghlin, sailed wide left as the first half ended.

Then with 2:07 to play, Coghlin booted a 35-yarder for his 72nd career make. Afterward, Tucker gave the sixth-year senior a game ball for his accomplishment.

“We just chopped Rutgers, 31-13,” Coghlin told his teammates inside the locker room before leading them in the fight song with a video the team posted to Twitter.

Lansing State Journal reporters Ken Palmer and Kara Berg contributed. Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State's Cal Haladay makes difference in 2nd half vs. Rutgers