First-half observations: Jayden Reed's return gets Spartans off to fast start

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — No. 17 Michigan State built a 42-16 halftime lead over Western Kentucky on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium behind three touchdown runs from Kenneth Walker III.

Here are some observations on the Spartans' play in the first half:

Opening blow

Who needs to worry about winning the time of possession when you have Jayden Reed?

The junior wide receiver has already proven himself as one of the most electric offensive weapons in the country, but just four plays into the game on Saturday night, he once again showed how critical he can be on special teams. A week after his punt return for a touchdown in the second half helped Michigan State rally to beat Nebraska, Reed put Michigan State ahead on its first play by taking a punt back 88 yards for the touchdown.

Less than two minutes into the game, the Spartans had produced a three-and-out, took a 7-0 lead and hadn’t run an offensive play from scrimmage. Reed was the reason with a punt return that tied for fourth-longest in program history.

That’s two punt returns in two games. Not bad for a team that hadn’t returned a punt for a touchdown since 2011 before last week.

Jayden Reed returns a punt for a touchdown in the opening minutes of Michigan State's matchup against Western Kentucky on Saturday.

Fighting back

While Michigan State started quickly, it didn’t take long to realize it was going to take a full 60 minutes to come away with a victory. Western Kentucky went three-and-out on each of its first two drives, but the Hilltoppers started warming up from there.

Western Kentucky scored on each of its next three drives, getting a touchdown and a pair of field goals as Bailey Zappe was busy flinging the ball around the field to a host of receivers. The Hilltoppers quarterback had threw for 292 yards in the first half and connected with five different receivers.

Western Kentucky also had some success on the ground, hitting Michigan State for gains of 15 and 9 yards as it mixed things up. By the end of the half, the Hilltoppers made it clear the offense was going to keep them in the game.

Limiting the damage

The defense spent the first half giving up its share of yards as well as a big play or two, but when Western Kentucky got in the red zone, it toughened up.

Three times in the first half, the Hilltoppers moved inside the Michigan State 20 and the Spartans came up with a stop, forcing field goals. It was critical considering the fact each time Michigan State moved into the Western Kentucky red zone it came up with touchdowns.

The stats were piling up for both sides in the first half, but for the first 30 minutes, at least, the most important number — points scored  was in favor of Michigan State thanks to some timely defensive plays.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau