Recap: Michigan State offense explodes in 48-31 win over Western Kentucky

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Michigan State looked like it might have some trouble late, but the Spartans put away Western Kentucky after an explosive first half and advanced to 5-0 with a 48-31 victory under the lights.

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

Final leaders

Passing

MSU - Payton Thorne: 20/30, 327 yds., TD

WKU - Bailey Zappe: 46/64, 488 yds., 3 TD

Rushing

MSU - Kenneth Walker III: 24 atts., 126 yds., 3 TD

WKU - Noah Whittington: 6 atts., 33 yds.

Receiving

MSU - Jalen Nailor: 8 recs., 128 yds.

WKU - Jerreth Sterns: 186 yds., TD

Second half

Michigan State prevents Western Kentucky from covering spread

Western Kentucky's hopes of staying in this game are all but gone, but if you've got Michigan State -10.5, you might want to stay tuned.

Michigan State leads by 17, as the Hilltoppers take over at the 25.

They move the ball downfield quite nicely, but come up empty near midfield after a fourth-down incompletion. 

After trying to move the ball downfield, Western Kentucky fails to cover the spread.

FINAL: Michigan State 48, Western Kentucky 31

Michigan State adds field goal, makes it a three-score game

Michigan State gets it back after the Western Kentucky touchdown, and all of a sudden the Spartans need to get some points on the board, as the Hilltoppers have scored 15 straight to make it 45-31.

Payton Thorne opens the drive with a bang, a 21-yard pass to Jalen Nailor. He goes back to Nailor on the next play, but it's broken up.

Thorne tucks it on second down, and he's hit late; the unnecessary roughness penalty makes it first-and-10 at the Hilltopper 40.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 4. After an incompletion, Nailor hauls in a 17-yard reception to the Western Kentucky 18. 

Thorne's next pass is good for 7 yards, and Walker moves the chains on a 3-yard gain.

An incompletion and 7-yard run by Walker brings up third-and-goal at the 1. Thorne loses 2 yards on third down.

Matt Coghlin puts home a 20-yard field goal.

Michigan State 48, Western Kentucky 31 (4:46 4th)

Michigan State turns ball over on downs near midfield

Michigan State gets it at the 35 after the kickoff goes out of bounds.

Jordon Simmons rushes for 11, then 1. Payton Thorne hits Montorie Foster for a gain of 7. A rush for no gain and 1-yard run by Kenneth Walker ends up in a turnover on downs.

Michigan State 45, Western Kentucky 24 (10:52 4th)

Western Kentucky takes over at the 42. 

Mitchell Tinsley catches a pass for no yardage on first down. A 9-yard pass sets up third-and-1, where Michigan State is flagged for illegal use of hands.

Zappe's next pass is also incomplete, but Michigan State's Cal Haladay is flagged for targeting. It was a pretty poor call — not much he could do, and no helmet-to-helmet contact was made.

After a 5-yard completion, there's another flag on the Spartans, this time for pass interference.

It's first-and-goal at the 2.

Joey Beljan scores to make it a two-score game.

Michigan State 45, Western Kentucky 30 (8:24 4th)

Western Kentucky cuts into Michigan State lead

WKU takes over at the 25, trailing 45-16.

Noah Whittington rushes for the left for 6 yards. Bailey Zappe is sacked by Jacub Panasiuk for a loss of some 6 yards to close the third quarter.

END 3RD: Michigan State 45, Western Kentucky 16 

Zappe hits his guy for a gain of 6, and that'll bring up fourth-and-4: Zappe hits Josh Sterns for a pickup of 7 to the WKU 38.

Jakairi Moses rushes for 9 yards up the middle after a first-down incompletion. Bailey Zappe hits Sterns for a 2-yard gain to move the chains. 

Zappe hits Jerreth Sterns on the next play for a 28-yard passing touchdown.

Michigan State 45, Western Kentucky 23 (13:13 4th)

Michigan State adds field goal, leads 45-1

Michigan State takes over at the 1, leading 42-16.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 4 on his first- and second-down carries, then busts out for 8 to move the sticks. 

Walker gets it again, 2 yards. Jalen Nailor gets open for a 13-yard pickup on the next play. 

Thorne keeps on first-and-10 from the 32 and rushes for 5 yards. Jordon Simmons moves the sticks with a 6-yard pickup on second down.

Unsportsmanlike conduct on WKU makes it first-and-10 at the 42 of the Hilltoppers.

Payton Thorne throws a 10-yard completion to Tre Mosley, and after an incomplete to Simmons, he goes to Jayden Reed for a pickup of 25 to the WKU 7.

Timeout #1 Michigan State (2:00 3rd)

Simmons barrels forward for a pickup of 5 yards, then loses 1. Thorne's third-down pass is incomplete.

Matt Coghlin kicks a 21-yard field goal.

Michigan State 45, Western Kentucky 16 (0:43 3rd)

Western Kentucky comes up yard short of touchdown

Western Kentucky opens its first series of the half at its own 20.

Bailey Zappe's first-down pass goes for 11. He then throws a 12-yard completion to Craig Burt Jr., making it first-and-10 at the 43.

Zappe's next throw is incomplete, but he fires a strike to Burt on second down for a gain of 15.

Jerreth Sterns hauls in a 7-yard catch to the Michigan State 35 on first down. Zappe throws another bullet to Malachi Corley, this time a gain of 4 that'll make it first-and-10 at the 31.

A 9-yard completion to Malachi is followed up with an incompletion and loss of 1, but Zappe rushes for the first down on fourth-and-2.

After a 5-yard completion, Kyle Robichaux rushes three straight times to make it second-and-goal at the 3 — where WKU is flagged for pass interference. Before the next snap, false start. It's second-and-goal from the 23. Zappe's pass to Adam Cofield is caught for 3 yards, but his third-down pass is incomplete.

WKU goes for it on fourth down, Zappe gets his man, but Jerreth Sterns stumbles after hauling in the catch and goes down at the Michigan State 1.

Turnover on downs.

Michigan State 42, Western Kentucky 16 (6:32 3rd)

Michigan State punts to open second half

Michigan State takes over at the 40 to start the second half.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 4. Payton Thorne's pass on second down is complete but for a loss of 5. He scrambles for 13 to move the chains on third down to the WKU 36.

Thorne misses on next two passes, and Jayden Reed drops the third. Bryce Baringer's punt goes for a touchback.

Michigan State 42, Western Kentucky 16 (12:14 3rd)

First half

Western Kentucky comes up short before half

Well, folks, it's a 42-16 game with 0:33 left in the first half. Western Kentucky takes over at the 25.

Bailey Zappe hits Adam Cofield for 7 yards, then Jerreth Sterns for 16.

Timeout #2 Western Kentucky (0:33 2nd)

Zappe sacked for a loss of 6.

Timeout #3 Western Kentucky (0:19 2nd)

His next two passes end the half.

END 2ND: Michigan State 42, Western Kentucky 16

Michigan State takes 42-16 lead before halftime

WKU takes over at the 25, trailing 35-16 with 2:39 left in the half.

Noah Whittington rushes for a yard, and Bailey Zappe hits Craig Burt Jr. for a gain of 8. Zappe has the ball ripped out on third down, and it's recovered by Michigan State. Forward progress may have been stopped. The play is under review.

And it stands. First down, Michigan State, at the 31 of WKU.

Payton Thorne throws complete to Jalen Nailor for a gain of 2, then Jayden Reed for 10. 

Reed rushes on the next play, a gain of 7. A penalty on WKU on the next play makes it first-and-goal at the 5. 

Thorne fumbles the exchange on first down.

Timeout #2 Michigan State (0:45 2nd)

Thorne then runs it in on his own on the next play from 12 yards out.

Michigan State 42, Western Kentucky 16 (0:41 2nd)

Walker adds third rushing touchdown of first half

Michigan State takes over at its own 34 after a 34-yard return by Jayden Reed.

Payton Thorne hits Tre Mosley for a pickup of 20 yards on first down.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 7 on the next play, then 2. Thorne rushes for 2 to move the sticks.

Walker gets his legs going on the next two carries, going for 12 and 15 yards.

Walker continues to get the ball, 5 yards, then 3 yards, and Michigan State has its fifth touchdown of the half.

Michigan State 35, Western Kentucky 16 (2:39 2nd)

Western Kentucky adds another field goal, MSU leads 28-16

Western Kentucky takes over at the 25, trailing 28-13.

Bailey Zappe's first-down pass is caught for no yardage; his next one is caught for 11.

Mitchell Tinsley picks up 34 yards on the following play to move WKU into Michigan State territory.

Tinsley then gets 13 on the next play, and it's first-and-10 at the Michigan State 17.

Zappe's next three passes are both incomplete.

Brayden Narveson puts home a 35-yard field goal.

Michigan State 28, Western Kentucky 16 (6:51 2nd)

Kenneth Walker adds second score of game

Michigan State takes over at the 32.

Payton Thorne hits Connor Heyward for a gain of 3, then gets it to Jalen Nailor on the next play for a big pickup of 43 yards to reach the Western Kentucky 22 in a hurry.

Injury timeout.

Kenneth Walker gains 2, then 15, to set up first-and-goal at the 5.

After an incompletion by Thorne, Walker dives for the end zone on a run to the right and gives the Spartans a two-score lead.

Michigan State 28, Western Kentucky 13 (9:10 2nd)

Western Kentucky adds field goal to start second quarter

Western Kentucky takes over at its own 28 after the punt, trailing 21-10.

Adam Cofield rushes for 15 yards on first down. 

A penalty on Western Kentucky makes it first-and-18, and then a false start makes it first-and-23.

Bailey Zappe's pass is complete for 2 yards to close the first quarter.

END 1ST: Michigan State 21, Western Kentucky 10 

Runs of 2 and 5 yards move the chains for Western Kentucky.

Noah Whittington hauls in a 9-yard throw on first-and-10, and Mitchell Tinsley goes for 5 yards on the next play to move the chains. It's first-and-10 at the 16.

Zappe's net pass is incomplete; he hits Cofield for 5 on second down. Zappe's third-down pass from the 11 is thrown out of bounds.

Brayden Narveson puts home a 29-yard field goal.

Michigan State 21, Western Kentucky 13 (11:42 2nd)

Michigan State goes 3-and-out for first time

Michigan State takes over at the 25, leading 21-10.

Jordon Simmons rushes for 5 on first down, 1 on second down. Payton Thorne throws to Connor Heyward in triple-coverage on third down, and he's lucky it's not intercepted.

Bryce Baringer's punt goes for 41 yards to the Western Kentucky 28.

Michigan State 21, Western Kentucky 10 (1:35 1st)

Western Kentucky responds quickly, cuts deficit to 21-10

Western Kentucky starts at the 35 after Matt Coghlin's kickoff goes out of bounds.

Bailey Zappe immediately finds Mitchell Tinsley for a 60-yard reception to the Michigan State 5.

Zappe's next pass is caught for a 1-yard gain, and he hits Joey Beljan on second down for a touchdown.

Michigan State 21, Western Kentucky 10 (2:57 1st)

Reed's monster first quarter continues for Michigan State

The Spartans will start from the 25, leading 14-3.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 2 yard on first down. Payton Thorne's second-down pass is dropped by Connor Heyward. Thorne connects with Tre Mosley on third down, and Mosley gets upfield for a gain of 27 to the Western Kentucky 46.

Thorne's next throw is to a wide-open Reed, and he cuts up the sideline for a 46-yard receiving touchdown. This man is unstoppable.

Michigan State 21, Western Kentucky 3 (3:54 1st)

Western Kentucky cuts Michigan State lead to 14-3

Western Kentucky takes over at the 25, trailing 14-0.

Jamole Carothers runs for 6, then 5, to move the sticks for WKU.

Bailey Zappe completes a 24-yard pass to Jereth Sterns, then a 5-yard pass to Sterns, and it'll be second-and-5 a the Michigan State 25. Adam Cofield rushes for a loss of 1, but the Hilltoppers convert with a 10-yard completion on third down.

Zappe's next pass is also complete, this time for a gain of 21 to the Michigan State 5. An illegal motion penalty makes it first-and-goal at the 10.

After a pair of incompletions, the pocket collapses around Zappe on third down and Maverick Hansen drags him down for a loss of 9.

Brayden Narveson's field goal from 37 yards out is good.

Michigan State 14, Western Kentucky 3 (6:40 1st)

Michigan State takes 14-0 on Walker touchdown

Michigan State gets it at the 20, leading 7-0.

Kenneth Walker rushes for 6 yards on first down. Payton Thorne finds Jalen Nailor for a 9-yard pickup on second down to move the chains.

A holding penalty makes it first-and-20.

Thorne gets those yards back in a hurry with a 46-yard pass to Jayden Reed. A false start backs the Spartans up again, but Jalen Nailor picks up 19 on the following play. 

Walker rushes for 6, then 5, and the Spartans have a two-score lead.

Michigan State 14, Western Kentucky 0 (8:26 1st)

Michigan State defense forces another three-and-out

Western Kentucky again takes over at the 25.

Noah Whittington rushes up the middle for 1, Bailey Zappe misses on second down, and Adam Cofield gets 1 on third down. They will punt again.

John Haggerty's punt is fielded with a fair catch at the Michigan State 20.

Michigan State 7, Western Kentucky 0 (12:25 1st)

Jayden Reed gives Michigan State 7-0 lead on punt return

Western Kentucky takes over at its own 25, the first possession of the game.

A first-down pass gains 5, a second-down run loses 3, and Bailey Zappe misses the mark on third down.

Michigan State forces a quick 3-and-out, but that's not the highlight of this drive: That'd be the 88-yard punt return by Jayden Reed that goes for a touchdown and gives Michigan State a 7-0 lead.

Michigan State 7, Western Kentucky 0 (13:32 1st)

Pregame

For the undefeated Spartans (4-0, 2-0 Big Ten), it's a bit of a buffer game. Their last two matchups were on the road at Miami (Florida) and at home against a Big Ten opponent. Before diving head first into the rest of its conference schedule, MSU will have a Conference USA opponent in town to work out the kinks before things get real.

At least, that's the plan. The Hilltoppers (1-2) gave Indiana a ride last weekend, falling 33-31, lost to Army by a field goal the week before that, and will now take their third straight crack at pulling off an upset.

More:Michigan State defense's next test: Find a way to ground Western Kentucky's air attack

More: Detroit News scouting report: Michigan State football vs. Western Kentucky

More: Detroit News predictions: Michigan State football vs. Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky at No. 17 Michigan State

► Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

► TV/radio: Big Ten Network/760

► Records: Western Kentucky 1-2; Michigan State 4-0, 2-0 Big Ten

► Line: Spartans by 11

► Series: First meeting

► Outlook: Michigan State is 6-1-0 all time vs. teams from Conference USA. Its one loss came vs. Louisiana Tech in 2003.