Spartans flee Hilltoppers early in East Lansing | WKU Sport

EAST LANSING, Michigan – The defensive problems of the first half of Western Kentucky continued on Saturday.

The Hilltoppers struggled to stop Michigan State’s No. 17 returning home at Spartan Stadium in the first half, and the Spartans ran away with a 48-31 win to remain undefeated as the WKU played their third straight game lost.

“Tough game. Big environment and a really good soccer team that we just played in Michigan State. I thought they did a really good job. They played a lot of explosive games,” said WKU head coach Tyson Helton. “We did Did a lot of good offensively, but couldn’t find the end zone in the first half. That was an obvious thing. Defensively, we couldn’t stop them in the first half. We kept them at 6 in the second half, so two different stories. “

WKU (1-3) gave up touchdowns in five of Michigan State’s (5-0) six first-half drives after either touchdowns in last week’s 33-31 defeat at each of Indiana’s first-half possessions or gave up a field goal at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Forcing a late punt in Saturday’s first quarter was the only time the Hilltoppers made a defensive first-half stop since the inaugural run at Army on Sept. 11, when the Black Knights after hitting the WKU 11-yard line fumbled.

“We just have to train again,” said WKU cornerback Beanie Bishop. “I feel like we’re preparing well and practicing hard, we just have to start the game faster.”

Michigan State scored 42 points in the first half – the first half of over 40 points since defeating Wyoming in 2014 – to drive to victory after getting a boost of energy on an 88-yard punt from Jayden Reed who led the Spartans 7-0 before their offensive even entered the field.

And when the Spartans got the ball, they amassed 335 yards of attack in two-quarters. Payton Thorne threw for 229 yards and a touchdown to Reed at the 11-of-14 pass, with three receptions for 102 yards to Reed, and Kenneth Walker III – the nation’s leading rusher who entered the Games that weekend – had 85 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries in half.

“I think we’re doing all we can. I wish I had the answer for you there, ”said Helton. “I think we had the right calls, we were matched in coverage, and they had a talented receiver, and they could walk a great route and open up, and that happened multiple times. When you play against a good, talented team for what they are, these things will happen, but of course we have to limit those explosive plays and in the first half they could just do what they wanted, run or throw – whatever always it was. “

WKU won the toss and got – the first time it wasn’t deferred this season when given a choice – but the offense failed to get going and three-and-off, forcing John Haggerty to poke. Reed brought it back 88 yards into the end zone to give the Spartans the lead in less than two minutes.

Michigan State made it 14-0 with a 5-yard scoring run by Walker with 8:26 in the first quarter. It was the third game in a row in which WKU got into a two-touchdown hole.

Brayden Narveson brought WKU with a 37-yard field goal – his first of three field goals in the first half – to 14: 3 with 5:04 minutes.

“You’re number 17 in the nation for good reason. They have a damn good defense, ”said WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe. “We are able to move the football across the field every single trip, we only have to score when we get into the red zone and I think that is part of kicking each other with kicks and things like that shoot.”

Michigan State responded quickly with a 46-yard touchdown pass from Thorne to Reed to end a 75-yard four-game drive that took only 1:10 to score 21-3. The WKU scored their first touchdown with a 4-yard pass from Zappe to Joey Beljan to get to the second with 21:10.

The Hilltoppers made it to a 21-13 game with a 29-yard make from Narveson early in the second quarter, but Michigan State pulled out before half-time. The Spartans got a 5-yard scoring run from Walker to make it 28-13, and WKU responded with a 35-yard field goal from Narveson. Michigan State added touchdown runs of 3 yards from Walker and 12 yards from Thorne to make it a 42-16 game at break.

“We scored field goals so we can’t keep up with their touchdowns and defensively they just knocked us off balance,” said Helton. “They hit the deep shots, they run the football, they shift the line of scrimmage so they can really do what they want. It kind of got our defenses on the heels.

“They’re just trying to find stability, to be honest with you, and it’s difficult to play defense when everything you dial in is working. We have to score every drive, so we just didn’t have a good balance there.”

WKU outperformed Michigan State 15-6 in the second half, limiting the Spartans to only one field goal in each quarter, but the deficit was too much to make.

Thorne finished with 327 yards and a touchdown at the 20-of-30 pass, with Jalen Nailor catching eight passes for 128 yards and Reed four for 127 yards. Walker finished the game with 126 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

Matt Coghlin’s 21-yard field goal was the only hit in the third, making it a 45-16 lead for the Spartans.

WKU had a 28-yard touchdown pass for Sterns and a 1-yard pass for Bejan von Zappe to make 45-31 in 8:24, and Michigan State added a 20-yard field goal from Coghlin added to make it 48-31.

The offense of the WKU ended with a loss of 556 yards. Zappe had 488 yards and three touchdowns on the 46-of-64 pass, with Sterns being his main target. Sterns finished with 186 yards and a touchdown on 17 receptions, which is the same for most receptions in a single game in program history. Mitchell Tinsley added seven catches for 127 yards. Noah Whittington led the rushing attack by 33 yards for six carries.

Michigan State is set to hit its unbeaten record next week to take on Rutgers.

The WKU is expected to open the Conference USA next week at home against an undefeated UTSA team. {&End}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit

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