Michigan State has answered any lingering questions about its offense in the first half tonight, jumping out to a 42-16 lead through 30 minutes.
The start to the game was picture-perfect for Michigan State on homecoming, who jumped on Western Kentucky from the start. For the third time this season, Michigan State scored on the first play they touched the ball, this time on a punt return from junior wide receiver Jayden Reed.
Reed, who was the hero of last week’s victory against Nebraska with a game-tying punt return, repeated his magic from last week only 90 seconds into the game. After the Michigan State defense forced a punt to start the game, Reed took the subsequent punt 88 yards to the house to open the scoring for the Spartans.
After fielding the punt on MSU’s 12-yard line, Reed took a few steps back before bursting past the initial wave of defenders on Western Kentucky University's punt coverage. After making the first two guys miss, Reed cut hard across the field to the Michigan State sideline and outran every Western Kentucky defender for the 88-yard score, the 4th-longest punt return in MSU history.
The strong start continued for Reed and the Spartans, who extended the lead to 14 on the next possession. Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne found Reed on a deep post for 46 yards to get MSU in scoring territory and Kenneth Walker punched it in from five yards out to make it 14-0 MSU.
Michigan State’s third touchdown of the first quarter was none other than Reed again. After Western Kentucky kicked a field goal to get their first points of the game, Michigan State struck back immediately. Reed beat the corner to the outside and sped past the safety to tip-toe into the endzone to make it 21-3 in favor of MSU.
Kenneth Walker also got in on the action. While most of MSU’s yards have come through the passing game, Walker has been there to cap off drives for the Spartans. He has scored three times from inside the five-yard line, racing defenders to the pylon for both of them. The second touchdown showcased Walker’s jaw-dropping skill as he jumped over a defender and stayed on his feet to score.
The offense has been humming all night, scoring on all but one drive so far. They have 335 yards of offense and five touchdowns. Kenneth Walker III has 85 rushing yards and three scores while Jayden Reed has 260 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Thorne took part in the scoring late after Cal Haladay recovered a fumble with less than two minutes on a draw to put MSU over 40 points in a half for the first time since 2014 against Wyoming.
The Hilltoppers have been resilient though and did not quit after the early adversity. After falling down 21-3 only 10 minutes into the game, Western Kentucky’s high-powered air raid offense kicked into gear and started manufacturing drive after drive to MSU’s redzone.
Despite getting some mojo going, Western Kentucky has been stifled by the Michigan State defense in the redzone so far. On four trips inside the 20-yard line, the Hilltoppers have scored one touchdown and settled for three field goals.
The difference between touchdowns and field goals has been the biggest difference so far tonight. Michigan State has turned its drives into touchdowns while Western Kentucky cannot generate enough offense inside the redzone. The 'bend don’t break' mentality has paid off so far for the Spartans.
Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe has been efficient throughout the half, throwing for 292 yards and one touchdown. He has been able to attack Michigan State on the margins of the field on quick screen passes and dump-offs. The biggest plays for Western Kentucky’s offense came through the middle of the field though, after their play stretched out MSU’s defense to the sidelines.
So far, Michigan State has been rolling with new personnel in the secondary. After starting the first four games of the season at nickel back, Michael Dowell played sparingly and was replaced by Darius Snow. Angelo Grose also moved from safety to nickel on third downs, with Emmanuel Flowers getting some time at safety next to Xavier Henderson.
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