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3-2-1 Preview: 3 Things We Want To See, 2 Key Stats and 1 Best Bet for Michigan State vs. Western Kentucky

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Let’s start to sweat out this Saturday.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Full disclosure, I am scared for this Saturday’s game between the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and Michigan State Spartans.

Western Kentucky has the offense to keep hanging around any game, and the closeness of last weekend’s game has me SHOOK.

3 THINGS WE WANT TO SEE

A FAST START

DUH, we always want to see a fast start. However, this has been the Achilles’ heel for Western Kentucky in its last two games against Army and Indiana.

Against Army, the Hilltoppers had an interception right outside of the red zone, a turnover on downs and a punt to start the game. Army had two touchdowns and a 14-0 lead after its first three drives. That game ended in a 38-35 Army victory.

The following week, it was the Hilltoppers’ defense that got the game started on a slow note for them, as Indiana scored on every drive in the first half — two touchdowns to start followed with three field goals and a 23-14 lead. Western Kentucky played a close game all second half, cutting the lead to two points with 5:53 to go in the third quarter, but Indiana did just enough to stave WKU off. Think their slow start changed how the 33-31 Indiana win shaped up?

With the Hilltoppers air raid game, they’ll be close in any game. But that’s the point — make them play catch up all game, because that’s been the difference in their last two contests.

THE RUN GAME COOKING AND DRAINING CLOCK

Another theme of WKU’s games against Army and Indiana? Time of possession.

Army — to no surprise — kept it on the ground with 67 rush attempts and dominated time of possession with 39:38. Indiana won the time of possession battle with 38:34 and ran it 39 times (and throwing a whopping 53 times).

Now I’m not saying that Michigan State needs to go to the triple option and run it north of 60 times, but the run game has to be good-to-great. And that is squarely in the realm of possibility, as WKU is giving up 4.8 yards per run on the season so far, and odds are the Hilltoppers haven’t even seen a duo like Kenneth Walker and Jordan Simmons yet.

LINEBACKERS AND NICKELS SHOWING OUT

Western Kentucky’s offense is fast paced and requires focused discipline from the second level of the defense. The Hilltoppers love running run-pass-options (RPOs) that will test Michigan State’s linebackers. They also love quick screens to the outside that will see how fast the nickels and safeties can react and get to the receiver.

WKU is a sneaky team because of its offense, and the players that will be called on the most are the players that have been playing well all season (knock on wood). If MSU’s linebackers, nickelbacks and safeties can play quick and stick their tackles, that will let the stress fly out of the building.

2 KEY STATS

73.1

That’s the completion percentage for Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe and that’s also why I am SHOOK about this game. Zappe and offensive coordinator Zach Kittley are in complete lock-step from their days together at Houston Baptist before both got hired/transferred to WKU.

The Hilltoppers have been clicking at 426 passing yards per game, which is good for second best in the nation. Kittley has been great at designing routes around the defense, Zappe is great at getting the ball out quick and WKU has done a great job of getting me worried for this game. I hate it here.

49.8

That’s the yards per punt for Western Kentucky’s John Haggerty III, meaning we will have a TOP. TEN. PUNTER. SHOWDOWN.

Haggerty has only punted four times this season, but that’s good for a top-ten ranking in the nation. MSU’s own Bryce Barringer has done a great job, holding the nation’s second-highest yards per punt with 53.2.

Pointing out punting, I think, is warranted after watching Nebraska bungle its punting 18 different ways last week. Sadly, we will likely be getting competent punting coming up this weekend from the opponent.

1 BEST BET

MSU -10.5, o/u 61.5

All right, we are back to even after a tough first two weeks. Under 52 points last weekend was the mortal lock of the century.

If you can’t tell by now, I am thinking Saturday is a close game. Western Kentucky has proved that offense can keep the Hilltoppers hanging around any game and I don’t think Saturday will be much different. Getting a lot of “2018 vs. Utah State” vibes with this one.

I also like the over as an unofficial pick, so take that for what it’s worth.

Pick: WKU +10.5

Record: 2-2

Poll

What’s your best bet for Saturday night?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    MSU -10.5
    (108 votes)
  • 18%
    WKU +10.5
    (58 votes)
  • 38%
    Over 61.5
    (122 votes)
  • 8%
    Under 61.5
    (26 votes)
314 votes total Vote Now