By Aidan Champion
The No. 17 Spartans could take a brief sigh of relief after avoiding a near-loss to Big Ten opponent Nebraska last Saturday.
Michigan State’s second home game was its poorest performance of the season, but the most crucial mission was accomplished. Coach Mel Tucker’s group was able to force OT and win the conference battle, improving to 4-0 for its best start since 2015.
The Spartans found a way to win, despite the ugly play. The offense rushed for only 71 yards and made only one third-down conversion on 10 attempts.
A down game like this is not the ideal performance that MSU wants going into a matchup with Western Kentucky. Though many fans are likely overlooking this game, it certainly holds value on the Spartans’ schedule.
The Hilltoppers’ biggest strength happens to be an area that MSU has not had much luck defending: passing.
At this point, if you’re at least a semi-decent quarterback, your eyes should be lighting up when you see MSU is approaching on your schedule. Aside from Youngstown State, quarterbacks have thrived against the Spartans’ defense so far this season.
It seems almost inevitable that the trend will continue in Saturday’s contest, considering Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns on 31 completions in the Hilltoppers’ 2-point loss to Indiana on Saturday.
Zappe also threw for over 400 passing yards in his two games prior, including seven TD passes in the first game and three in the second.
Western Kentucky also has a number of talented receiving targets to surround Zappe, an advantage that could expose the Spartan secondary.
The Hilltoppers had four receivers record at least 60 receiving yards against Indiana, including 82 from Jerreth Sterns, Zappe’s go-to receiver. Sterns had over 100 receiving yards in Western Kentucky’s first two contests.
One significant thing that the Spartans have the edge in going into this game is its rushing game. Assuming the O-line steps up this week and the offense’s running game returns to the level it has performed in weeks prior, Kenneth Walker III and the rest of the backfield could very well have a field day with Western Kentucky.
The Hilltoppers allowed 201 rushing yards in their first game, 339 in their second and 134 last week.
Despite not getting a single first down in the second half against Nebraska, MSU has deemed itself as a second-half team in its last two matchups. Saturday’s game should make this interesting, though, as Western Kentucky has outscored all three of its opponents in the second half.
This will be yet another test for the Spartans this week. Though there’s a legitimate scenario where the No. 17-ranked team dominates the inferior Hilltoppers, this matchup can only help MSU’s morale before heading into the heart of conference play.
Win or lose, the Spartans will defend against a fast-paced, up-tempo offense that it hasn’t seen before. The secondary will have a chance to really prove itself, and the O-line will be dealt with a weak rushing defense that should allow for them to rebound after underperforming these last two weeks.
MSU and Western Kentucky face off at Spartan Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game can be watched on BTN.
Written by: Aidan Champion
Aidan is an MSU Journalism Student and Spartan Football writer for: impact89fm.org
Photo Courtesy of Draft Kings