No. 17 Michigan State not taking Western Kentucky lightly

Field Level Media

September 28, 2021 at 7:59 pm.

Western Kentucky came close to upsetting a Big Ten team last Saturday. The Hilltoppers will get another shot to collect a victory against a Big Ten opponent this Saturday.

They’ll look to rebound from a two-point loss to Indiana on Saturday when they face unbeaten and 17th-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich.

“It was a great lesson for us last week that as close as we got, if we can put all the pieces together, we can really beat anybody,” Hilltoppers coach Tyson Helton said. “It will be great for us to go up there and try to get all the pieces together.”

Quarterback Bailey Zappe had a big game against the Hoosiers, passing for 365 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in the 33-31 loss.

Western Kentucky (1-2) trailed by just two points entering the fourth quarter, then answered an Indiana score with 2:43 left. Indiana was able to run out the clock after picking up a first down.

Previously, the Hilltoppers sustained a three-point loss to Army after beating UT Martin in their opener. Zappe has been very impressive, throwing for 13 touchdowns against two interceptions while completing 73.1 percent of his throws.

Jerreth Sterns (23 receptions, 360 yards, four touchdowns) has been his top target.

Helton hopes his team can build off its encouraging performance.

“If we can go up to Michigan State and start fast, try to get an early touchdown, get that momentum in our favor where we’re not having to play catchup, that will benefit us a lot,” he said.

Western Kentucky’s performance against Indiana didn’t go unnoticed by Michigan State coach Mel Tucker.

“They can play with anyone and they can beat anyone. They have that type of talent,” he said. “We have to get better this week. The opponents change, but the standards do not change.”

After posting three double-digit wins, the Spartans (4-0) needed a late rally to record a 23-20 overtime victory against Nebraska on Saturday.

Jayden Reed’s 62-yard punt return with 3:47 remaining in the fourth quarter allowed Michigan State to tie the game. Matt Coghlin kicked the game-winning 21-yard field goal after a Cornhuskers turnover in overtime.

Michigan State’s offense stalled against Nebraska after the first half. Kenneth Walker III, who rushed for 172 yards against Miami (Fla.) the previous week, was limited to 61 yards on 19 carries.

Starting quarterback Payton Thorne completed 14 of 23 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown and was also intercepted once. He hooked up with ex-high school teammate Reed on a scoring pass for the fourth time this season.

Tucker wants to set the bar high and he felt his team certainly didn’t clear it against the Cornhuskers.

“There hasn’t been a game this season where we came out of the game giddy about where we were in terms of productivity,” he said. “We’re a work in progress. We are now, we always have been and we always will be.”

The Spartans’ defense has been solid for the most part, holding opponents to 18 points per game and 3.4 yards per carry while forcing seven turnovers.

“They’re doing a great job defensively,” Helton said. “When you watch them, they’re flying around, tackling and their looks are tough. They’re not just lining up and you know what you’re getting. They’re keeping you guessing.”