Even at a 1 am press conference in a construction trailer for a game his team lost, P.J. Fleck is upbeat. Why wouldn't he be though? His offense put up 13* points on a vaunted Michigan State defense. His defense held a Big Ten team relatively in check, especially with a few short fields. His team was a 4 touchdown underdog, and covered the spread, by half!
"We aren't proud of the end result, but I'm very proud of our guys tonight," Fleck said. "We laid the foundation tonight with our HOW, and it's how we played that I'm proud of."
Sure the Broncos ended up with a mere 11 yards rushing on 27 attempts. Sure they turned the ball over 4 times (3 INTs, 1 fumble lost), with two immediately resulting in Spartan defensive touchdowns. Sure they only went 18-for-48 throwing for 193 yards. But at the same time, Western Michigan held a Big Ten team to 4.3 yards/carry (much better than previous years), forced Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook to just 17-for-37 throwing for 116 yards, and forced a fumble. They forced Michigan State to punt a near team record 11 times, and held MSU to just 5/19 on 3rd down attempts.
After struggling mightily in the first quarter, a quarter which saw the Broncos gain just 35 yards and have Tyler VanTubbergen throw two interceptions, including a pick-pitch-6, mother nature helped the Broncos regroup. A 56 minute weather delay due to lightning (the 2nd time this has happened in the last 3 openers for WMU) allowed Western Michigan to seemingly regroup, as they promptly came out from the break and started moving the ball with consistency.
After a failed drive that finally put the ball in Spartan territory, TVT moved the ball down field all the way to the MSU 14. However, his night would soon be over due to an apparent concussion after trying to scramble for yards on a 2nd-and-10. Freshman back-up QB Zach Terrell didn't miss a beat though, throwing a 14 yard TD pass to Clark Mussman to tie the game at 7 in his first career snap.
Michigan State would slowly retake the momentum though, slowing the Bronco offense again, and getting a 2-minute offense TD right before the half to take a 13-7 lead (botched snap on the PAT). The 3rd quarter would continue to see the Broncos struggle offensively, but the defense held tough. With 2 short fields in a span of 3 drives, the WMU defense kept the Spartans out of the end zone, and even had a chance at a turnover, allowing two short field goals.
The fourth quarter would see much more of the same game, as Terrell was finally forced into a big mistake trying to make a play. Staying in the pocket, he was rocked for a fumble, which Shilique Calhoun returned 16 yards for the 26-7 lead, and seemingly the nail in the coffin for the game. Terrell would add a late TD pass to stellar freshman Corey Davis, but it was too little too late at that point.
TVT finished with a 6-for-20 line for 73 yards and 2 interceptions, but seemed to be hitting his stride before going down. Terrell had a decent 12-for-28 line for 120 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT coming off the bench. Brian Fields led all Bronco rushing with a mere 24 yards on 12 carries. Davis led the WMU receiving corps with 8 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.
As for the Spartans, Andrew Maxwell was in and out of the game all night with coach Mark Dantonio seeming to split time between Cook and the senior QB regardless of the situation. Maxwell finished going 11-for-21 for 74 yards and 5 yards rushing while Cook went 6-for-16 for 42 yards but had 35 yards rushing on 4 carries. Jeremy Langford came out in the 2nd half finishing with a decent 20 carries for 94 yards and a TD. No Spartan receiver had more than 34 yards, in a "balanced" attack.
Defensively, Donald Celiscar led the Broncos with 10 tackles and had 2 pass break-ups. Johnnie Simon had the lone sack on the night. Max Bullough led the Spartans with 9 tackles including 2.5 TFL. Jairus Jones had 2 INTs, including one he pitched to Kurtis Drummond for the first touchdown of the game. Drummond finished with 1 INT, that you probably saw on SportsCenter last night.
So now the Broncos must prepare for a weaker FCS opponent in Nicholls State. It will be the 3rd time in 4 years that the two teams will have met at Waldo Stadium. The biggest question going forward, however, will be if TVT can play, or if Terrell will be given the reigns to the Bronco offense. Either way, you can be sure that Fleck will have his team "rowing".