Following an uneven performance against Nebraska the week prior, the Michigan State Spartans shined on offense Saturday night. The Spartans improved to 5-0 on the season after a 48-31 win over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Mel Tucker’s team remains undefeated, but will face stiffer challenges ahead as they head into Big Ten play.
Living up to their billing as a potential Cinderella, the Hilltoppers out-gained the Spartans on offense overall 556 yards to 519 yards, while moving the ball with increased efficiency in the second half. Despite their momentum on offense, the Hilltoppers failed to come within striking distance.
While the Western Kentucky passing attack was a serious point of emphasis coming in, it did not result in a scare to the MSU faithful, but the Spartans will spend the upcoming week finding a way to limit teams through the air offensively and shore up gaps in the defense heading into Big Ten play. MSU does not want to give up as many explosive plays to opponents moving forward.
Jayden Reed picked up right where he left off last week, returning a punt return 88 tyards for a touchdown on his first touch of the game, and then scoring on a 46-yard touchdown throw from Payton Thorne shortly afterward. The Spartans would score three touchdowns in the opening quarter to open a gap against the pesky Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky has played well in the program’s first three games of the season, despite two close losses to Army and Indiana.
Western Kentucky closed the gap on a field goal by Brayden Naverson early in the second quarter to bring the game 21-13, but a touchdown by the Spartans on the following drive busted the game open, and Michigan State did not look back.
Michigan State would continue to show dominance on nearly every offensive possession throughout the first half, eventually outscoring the Hilltoppers 42-16 heading into halftime. Kenneth Walker III would finish the half with three touchdowns and showed flashes of elite playmaking ability that was absent last weekend versus the Cornhuskers.
The Spartans would only score six points in the second half on two short field goals by Matt Coghlin, while MSU’s defense was tested often as the Hilltoppers gained a lot of yardage and put up 15 more points in the second half. WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe would finish with 488 yards passing on offense and three touchdowns, however the Hilltoppers rushing attack would only gain 68 yards overall.
After facing adversity for the first time this season last weekend, Thorne got back on track with a 327-yard performance on just 20 pass completions and two total touchdowns (one receiving and one rushing). Per usual, Jalen “Speedy” Nailor (eight receptions for 128 yards) and Reed (seven receptions for 127 yards) carried the receiving load for the Spartans, and exposed a weak Hilltopper passing defense. Walker would also govern the rushing attack, finishing with 126 yards and three touchdowns.
While Michigan State fans are thrilled to see the Spartans where they currently are, competition will continue to improve as the schedule shifts completely into Big Ten Conference play moving forward, and the passing defense will need to rally with it. MSU will travel to Rutgers next weekend and look to remain a contender in the conference,