The Broncos make the short drive to East Lansing in hopes of upsetting the Spartans
Western Michigan jumped on Monmouth, its first opponent and a team from the FCS ranks, early and often. The Broncos scored on eight of their nine possessions. The only time WMU did not score was when the Broncos had the ball during the final two minutes of the game and ran out the clock.
Michigan State gave a brief glimpse of a revamped offense during the first possession of its season opener against Tulsa. After that, the Spartans reverted to their 2018 mode. The defense suffocated the Golden Hurricane while the offense mostly sputtered and stumbled.
Michigan State leads this series, 13-2. These programs first faced each other in 1908. The Spartans have won the last 1 meetings. The Broncos' last victory over Michigan State occurred exactly 100 years ago.
Western Michigan at Michigan State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan State -16
When Western Michigan Has the Ball
Jon Wassink, having played in the Broncos' first nine games last season and their first eight in 2017, led an offensive juggernaut last week. His five touchdown passes tied his personal record from a victory at Buffalo in 2017 and at Miami (Ohio) in 2018. His 368 passing yards rank as the third most in his 18-game career in Kalamazoo. His 80 percent completion rate equaled the second-highest percentage of his college years.
Against opponents from the Power 5, Wassink has experienced noticeably less success. Last year at Michigan and two years ago at USC and Michigan State, he compiled only 85, 67 and 79 yards, respectively, through the air. He threw an interception in each game but no touchdowns, and he never exceeded 50 percent in pass completions. His one remarkable performance versus a defense from major conference occurred at home in a loss to Syracuse to open last season: 19 completions on 36 attempts for 379 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Western Michigan will place its hopes of generating the threat of a running attack against the Spartans' rock-solid rushing defense in senior LeVante Bellamy, who has faced eight Power 5 defenses in his career. Last season, he carried the ball 11 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns versus Syracuse. Two years prior, he ran for 102 yards on nine attempts without a score at USC. Bellamy has not accomplished much in his six previous meetings with Big Ten defenses.
Bellamy and everyone else associated with the Broncos’ rushing attack has the Herculean task of running against the Spartans’ formidable rushing defense. MSU held Tulsa to -73 rushing yards. Even after factoring out two botched snaps to the quarterback, Tulsa compiled -33 yards on the ground on 23 attempts. MSU has eight returning starters from a defensive squad that led the FBS in fewest rushing yards allowed per game last season.
When Michigan State Has the Ball
Last week, the Spartans offense produced one impressive drive in each half. During the first possession of the game, Michigan State moved the ball 73 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. In its second possession in the third quarter, Sparty needed 17 plays to drive the same distance for a field goal.
The Spartans struggled during their 12 other possessions, especially when the defense and special teams handed them gifts in the first half. After a blocked punt early in the second quarter, the offense started with the ball at Tulsa's 24-yard line but could only manage four yards and a field goal. Linebacker Kenny Willekes recovered an errant snap at Tulsa's 21-yard line, but the offense lost eight yards and settled for another field goal. Another botched Tulsa snap resulted in a safety. The offense started with the ball near midfield after the free kick but failed to convert on 4th-and-1 at Tulsa's 9-yard line. The defense intercepted a pass and returned it to Tulsa's 30. Three downs yielded only four yards, resulting in yet another field goal.
The primary culprit was MSU's inability to run the ball. The Spartans rushed 40 times for only 108 yards. Twice in the first half, Tulsa stuffed Michigan State rushing attempts on 4th-and-1. Quarterback Brian Lewerke ran for the second-most yards, 34, on seven attempts. Connor Heyward had the most rushing yards and carries but only averaged 2.9 yards per attempt.
Instability along the offensive line plagued the Spartans last season and continues in 2019. Not only did the projected starter at left tackle, Cole Chewins, miss the first game, but so did his replacement, A.J. Arcuri. These absences caused further shuffling.
It is tempting to be enthralled by the Broncos' gaudy offensive numbers and the Spartans' remarkable defensive statistics in Week 1. Everyone must realize those results are mostly due to the inferior level of competition. It is doubtful that either team could repeat such a one-sided result this week.
Western Michigan has nine returning defensive starters. Someone might conclude that the Spartans will find difficulties in running against the Broncos. However, WMU's defense gave up 166.2 yards and 2.1 touchdowns per game on the ground last season. Might the Spartans find more production against this defense?
Defense will once again carry the Spartans. That unit can keep Western Michigan's offense from driving easily. Michigan State's offense will manage to grind out a few scoring drives, enough for an uninspiring victory.
Prediction: Michigan State 23, Western Michigan 10
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.