Another week of football brings another exciting match-up. The Western Michigan Broncos (0-1) are looking prove themselves against the Michigan State Spartans (1-0). Western Michigan (0-1) are returning after a very near upset of then-#4 USC Trojans. The Broncos hung in within a touchdown of USC until the final four minutes. Tim Lester and the Broncos are looking to prove that they are a higher-tier football program. A win against Michigan State would help that argument, as well as cast fear into the entire Mid-American Conference.
This week brings a different set of circumstances. Western Michigan had the benefit of playing their last game in the intense Los Angeles heat. According to Tim Lester’s press conference posted on Facebook Live, the relatively cooler temperatures in East Lansing saves on timeouts called for water breaks. In that conference, Lester also noted that Michigan State has a loud stadium that requires special preparation. Later in the same conference, Lester said it “makes a big difference” for morale playing in the home state of Michigan. We will have to wait and see if Michigan State is doing their homework as diligently as the Broncos are.
Western Michigan features a dynamic trio of running backs, with even more waiting their turn on the sideline. The Broncos dominate the offensive line, calling on the strength of Chukwuma Okorafor, Luke Juriga, and John Keenoy. Without a doubt, the Broncos will be running the ball all day, probably with great success again. Western Michigan’s linemen will go toe-to-toe with linebacker Joe Bachie, a consistent tackler.
In the passing game, the Broncos need to figure out a way to get more yardage. Connecting only about half of the passes for less than 100 total yards will not cut it if the Broncos want to succeed. Western Michigan should definitely keep practicing, but ought to stick to the ground until the passing attack is adequate.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos bring a solid unit into East Lansing. Against USC, Western Michigan kept the running in check by minimizing big plays. The Bronco secondary, led by Darius Phillips and Sam Beal, covered their receivers much tighter than USC was prepared for. Against the high-flying Michigan State Spartans, the Broncos need to come on the attack the same way. However, the Broncos missed too many important tackles. To beat the Spartans, the secondary must prevent yards after catch.
Players to Watch
LeVante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan
Even while exchanging reps with the other backs in the “three-headed monster”, Bellamy managed to burn the USC defense for over 100 yards. This week, Bellamy will compete with Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin for even more yardage. I specifically put LeVante Bellamy on this list because he has a tremendous burst of speed when he gets space. With the Bronco offensive line, Bellamy saw a lot of open space. I expect to see a lot of the same this week.
Darius Phillips, DB/KR/PR, Western Michigan
Darius Phillips is the master of giving headaches. He gives offensive coordinators headaches when he swats down passes, intercepts the ball, and covers receivers tighter than Spandex. Phillips gives head coaches fits when he returns routine kickoffs 102 yards for touchdowns, as in the GIF above. It is almost impossible to plan for defending against Darius Phillips, but it’s necessary. Phillips is a weapon any time the ball is anywhere near him. I love it all because he is a human highlight reel. Keep an eye on Phillips on every Spartan kick, punt, pass, or outside run.
Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State
Were the Spartans playing against a so-so Bowling Green Falcons team? Sure, but Brian Lewerke put up 250 yards passing and nearly 70 rushing yards, accounting for three passing touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore will try to pick apart the Western Michigan defense through the air all night. Between the Bronco pass rush and the tight coverage in the secondary, Brian Lewerke will have his work cut out for him.
Darrell Stewart Jr., WR, Michigan State
What would compliment a consistent passer better than a physical receiver? Darrell Stewart Jr. led the Spartans in the passing attack with 85 passing yards and 28 rushing yards. Stewart is able to find the ball in traffic and keep it. The Spartans will surely look to spread the ball around to each of the receivers, but Stewart has earned his reps. Michigan State has a plethora of excellent receiving options. Choosing only one as a key player was difficult. Stewart is going to look good against the Broncos, regardless of how many yards they can keep him to.
Keys to the Game
Pressure the quarterback.
Although the Broncos have a strong passing defense, tackling leaves something to be desired. Of course, the defensive backs for the Broncos will be much more prepared against the Spartans. The real key is forcing errors and bad passes through rushing the quarterback. If Brian Lewerke is to sit in the pocket, he will light up the board in yardage. Sure, he can run. However, if the Broncos keep him focused on escaping a collapsing pocket, then he cannot even try to throw. Expect to see some blitzes from Asantay Brown coming in quickly from the edge.
Finish the game.
Games last all 60 minutes. It may seem obvious, but the Broncos have to be in the lead at the end. They cannot give up a rapid 14 points to close out a game again. Every possession matters. To beat the Spartans, Western Michigan has to have the stamina and depth to stay fresh all game long. The Broncos fared well against USC in controlling the clock, which will need to continue as well against Michigan State.
The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network (BTN) on Saturday, with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 PM EST. Western Michigan last face Michigan State on Sep 4, 2015 in Kalamazoo. The Spartans held the Broncos off 37-24 in front of a sold-out Waldo Stadium. Michigan State is Western Michigan’s only scheduled Big Ten opponent this year.
Ready to see some wild action? Western Michigan will be moving the ball consistently on the ground. If the Broncos get frustrated setting up the run game, they will just as happily use a tricky play like last week’s double pass. Each team will give each other fits, but Western Michigan’s incredible depth of talent will show through.
Prediction: Western Michigan 38, Michigan State 32