EAST LANSING — Harlon Barnett joked that Charles Brantley “only weighs 90 pounds.”
“I tease him about that,” Michigan State football’s secondary coach grinned.
Brantley is listed at 165 pounds on the Spartans’ roster, but “I don’t really want to talk about my weight,” the cornerback sheepishly chuckled Tuesday.
Instead, he prefers to let his hitting do the talking. Just ask Michigan’s Eric All.
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Before his game-clinching interception in No. 6 MSU’s 37-33 win Saturday, Brantley, giving up 80 pounds and 4 inches, knocked the Wolverines’ tight end out of the game with a devastating hit along the sideline.
Michigan State Spartans cornerback Charles Brantley intercepts a pass to Michigan Wolverines tight end Luke Schoonmaker with one minute remaining to seal MSU’s 37-33 win Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
It didn’t matter. And that’s just the way Brantley likes it.
“That’s just how I approach everybody,” the 6-foot freshman said. “I’m gonna hit you. You got to show me your bigger than me.”
Said Barnett: “Oh, he’s a chip on the shoulder guy, for sure. He doesn’t look at himself as too small. If you watch the game, I know the interception was nice, but he came up and hit some guys, too. That’s what he does. He doesn’t run up and slow down and tackle you, he’s gonna try to run through you.”
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Brantley made that big hit on All, one of his four tackles Saturday. His coverage skills also were on display in the fourth quarter, running stride for stride with U-M’s Andrel Anthony and bumping the freshman receiver just enough to turn a drive-extending catch into an out-of-bounds incompletion.
Oh yeah, then there was his first career interception with a minute to play, which couldn’t have come at a more important moment.
And which showed Brantley packs headiness with his hitting.
Michigan’s Cade McNamara dropped back and had Anthony breaking to the outside on a short route. Brantley read the quarterbacks eyes, however, and quickly broke off his coverage and backpedaled toward a deeper receiver.
Michigan State Spartans cornerback Charles Brantley (0) defends Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Andrel Anthony during the second half Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. The pass was ruled incomplete.
“He ran that same play the drive before that, and I (faked) like I was going to go to the check-down that they threw,” Brantley said.
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As Luke Schoonmaker elevated, Brantley surprised him by leaping at the same time, high-pointing the ball and pulling a one-handed pick away from the Wolverines tight end.
Ball game. And an instant legacy-making play in the biggest game of the season.
“It was a great feeling,” Brantley said. “I feel like I made a play that …”
He trailed off, understanding the enormity of the moment three days later. “It’s a lifetime memory.”
And the Spartans (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) are going to need more from Brantley, particularly this week at Purdue (5-3, 3-2). The Boilermakers rank 16th in the nation at 307.1 yards passing while using three different quarterbacks this season.
Brantley, from Sarasota, Florida, emerged earlier this season in the second half against Miami (Florida) until a fourth quarter targeting penalty kept him out of the first half against the Nebraska win the following week. Florida transfer Chester Kimbrough emerged alongside Alabama transfer Ronald Williams II as the starters at cornerback, and Louisville transfer Marqui Lowery reentered the rotation after getting healthy following the exit of Kalon Gervin to the transfer portal.
Saturday was Brantley’s first action on defense since the win over Western Kentucky on Oct. 2. He now has 13 tackles this season and two pass breakups. And that potentially career-altering interception.
Charles Brantley (0) and Michigan State players celebrate Brantley’s interception with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter to seal the 37-33 comeback win against Michigan at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth out of Chuck since then,” Barnett said. “First of all, he loves the game of football. He has a big heart, even though he’s not so big of a body, but he has a big heart and he loves to play the game.
“That was a great play by him, really happy for him.”
Brantley said he had a number of friends and family members at the Miami game to watch his homecoming and breakout performance, but he said the nerves were much greater going against Michigan for the first time. And the folks back home saw that interception and blew up his phone afterward, a sign of his emergence on the national stage.
“It’s exciting,” Brantley said. “But at the same time, I know that’s only one play. And I got to keep going. I can’t stop here.”
Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] 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 Charles Brantley delivers big plays, hits