No. 17 Mich St beats W Kentucky 48-31, best start since 2015
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State’s Jayden Reed planted his right foot in the turf and juked to his left, cut back across the field and sprinted up the sideline untouched for an 88-yard touchdown off a punt return to score on special teams for the third straight week.
Reed also had a touchdown reception in the first half, giving him multiple scores for the fourth straight week, to help the 17th-ranked Spartans build a 26-point lead and they went on to beat Western Kentucky 48-31 on Saturday night.
“He can do it all,” coach Mel Tucker said.
Reed had 285 all-purpose yards, including 127 yards receiving and 63 yards on kickoff returns.
Kenneth Walker ran for 126 yards, a week after being held to 61 yards rushing in an overtime win over Nebraska, and three touchdown in the first half to keep his name in the early conversation for the Heisman Trophy candidates.
“That is a dream of mine to win the Heisman,” Walker said. “I had that in my notes on March 8th.”
The Spartans (5-0) have won their first five games for the first time since starting 8-0 in 2015, when they ended up earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The Hilltoppers (1-3) moved the ball through the air effectively, but settled for three field goals in the first half and struggled to slow down Michigan State until the second half when it was too late.
“They made a lot of explosive plays and we didn’t,” coach Tyson Helton said. “Defensively we couldn’t stop them in the first half and we held them to six points in the second half.”
Reed returned the punt for a touchdown after the opening possession and had 46-yard reception for another score in the first quarter, helping the Spartans take a 21-10 lead. Walker ran for his second and third scores in the second quarter, putting Michigan State ahead 42-16.
“In the first half they were able to do whatever they wanted to do,” Helton said.
Payton Thorne was 20 of 30 for a career-high 327 yards yards and a touchdown for the Spartans. Nailor had career highs with eight catches and 128 yard receiving.
Bailey Zappe, who was 46 of 64 for a career-high 488 yards, threw two touchdown passes early in the fourth quarter to pull Western Kentucky within two touchdowns.
Jerreth Sterns set career highs with 17 catches for 186 yards and had a touchdown reception for the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers can throw the ball effectively, but their defense has been a weakness that has been tough to overcome. They allowed an average of 35.5 points in the previously two games and gave up more than that in the first half alone at Michigan State.
Michigan State: The Spartans have work to do with their pass defense. Zappe, who ranks among the nation’s leaders in passing, was able to make throws all over the field against linebackers and defensive backs that often seemed out of position.
“We’re going to learn a lot from that,” Tucker said. “They’re very explosive on offense. They put a lot of stress on our defense.”
Michigan State’s 42 points in the first half trailed just the 49 points it scored over the first two quarters in 2014 against Eastern Michigan and the 45 scored in 2017 against Alabama-Birmingham.
Michigan State linebacker Cal Haladay was ejected early in the fourth quarter for a hit on receiver Jerreth Sterns. Haladay will miss the first half of next week’s game against Rutgers.
Michigan State has a chance to move up some in the AP Top 25 with some ranked teams losing, including No. 15 Texas A&M against Mississippi State.
Western Kentucky: Hosts UTSA (5-0) on Oct. 9, the Hilltoppers’ first home game since Sept. 2 when Zappe passed for 424 yards and seven touchdowns in a 59-21 win over UT Martin in their opener.
Michigan State: Plays at Rutgers (3-2, 0-2) on Oct. 9, the first of two straight road games before getting an off week to have extra time to prepare for a highly anticipated game against archrival and 14th-ranked Michigan at home Oct. 30.
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