Tensions ran high in East Lansing as the Western Michigan Broncos took on the Michigan State Spartans. Western Michigan came out sluggishly, not looking at all like the same squad that challenged #4 USC last week. Each team left opportunities on the table, but the Spartans prevailed 28-14.
Surprisingly, the Broncos came out passing with confidence. An interception in the Bronco’s first possession by Michigan State’s Josiah Scott doused cold water on the Bronco passing attack. Jon Wassink went back to work through the air shortly after, but only earned 79 total yards. Keishawn Watson missed an important second quarter pass that would have tied the game. Heavy pressure doomed the passing game early for the Broncos. Jon Wassink was hurried all day, and sacked six times. Each sack came from unbalanced scrambling, with Wassink being taken down by the lightest contact. His third quarter passes were overthrown from that pressure. Wassink finished with only 12 of his 27 passes completed.
Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy came out with quickness in the running back position, but had was unable to finish drives. Jarvion Franklin only sneaked out 36 rushing yards. Small holes from the offensive line, defensive aggressiveness, and hesitation form the running backs led to a disappointing 116 yards rushing. Excluding sacks and bad scrambles from Jon Wassink, the Broncos earned 133 yards. Wassink was able to pick up a key fourth-and-five with a bold scramble up the middle, which ended up being for naught.
Defensively, Darius Phillips got picked on early, despite his tight coverage. Phillips stepped up to the plate with a handful of pass break-ups and a key first quarter interception. Michigan State quickly realized a mismatch against Sam Beal, picking on his man for serious yardage. In a stark contrast to week one, Western Michigan’s defensive line did not apply a serious threat to quarterback Brian Lewerke. The Broncos gave up 161 yards and a touchdown. With the tempers flaring toward the end of the game, Eric Assoua was injured in a shoving match.
Western Michigan took a few precious minutes to remember how to tackle, giving up 34 total yards on the first Spartan possession. It took pressure from Justin Tranquill and poise from the linebacker corps to slow down the Spartan attack. Unfortunately, Tranquill ended up injured covering a punt, which led to the Spartans opening up the floodgates, so to speak. Coming back from the halftime break showed temporary improvement by the Bronco defense. Most notably, defensive lineman Nick Matich recorded a momentum-swinging sack for the Broncos. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was penned in in the second half, forcing him to only run to escape pressure. Michigan State tried their hardest to run through the Broncos, and managed to earn 296 total yards and three touchdowns. LJ Scott earned 86 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Brian Lewerke earned 81 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Western Michigan’s defense had a few errors, including a penalty for having 12 men on the field. Missed tackles and poor alignment led to the Broncos giving up unnecessary yardage and a touchdown. Another missed tackle in the fourth quarter turned a fourth-and-one into a 44 yard gain.
Darius Phillips returned four total kickoffs, with one going for 52 yards, and one for 100 yards and a score. Jake Hartbarger was certain to punt away from Darius Phillips when the Spartans face fourth downs, showing that they did their homework. Derrick Mitchell averaged 47 yards per punt, with two inside the 20-yard line. Neither team attempted field goals, but both Matt Coghlin and Josh Grant made all their PAT attempts. Interestingly, Brett Scanlon, Michigan State’s kick-off specialist, used to play for Western Michigan.
The Spartans did not show strong football in the first half. Dropped passes and missed blocks prevented the points from growing. Coming out in the second half, the Spartans looked much more put together, forcing the Broncos off the field on downs. Patience Ball security proved an issue when Hunter Rison was stripped by Darius Phillips in the third quarter and subsequently returned for a score. Later, Brian Lewerke mishandled a snap and had to recover his own fumble. Lewerke fumbled on a scramble later, but the ball was ruled out of bounds, saving the Spartans from a turnover.
Michigan State scored early on, on a 61 yard quarterback draw from Brian Lewerke. Darius Phillips had a big interception in the first quarter, but the Broncos were unable to capitalize on the turnover. Midway through the second corner, the Spartans added a 15 yard pass from Lewerke to LJ Scott, extending the Spartan lead to 14-0. In the third quarter, Darius Phillips struck gold. Phillips stripped Spartan running back Hunter Rison and returned the ball 67 yards down the sideline for seven points. The Spartans replied with an angry 46-yard run that almost crossed the goal line. Brian Lewerke punched in the last yard seconds later for a 21-7 lead.
In the final quarter, the Spartans took advantage of a tired Bronco defense. LJ Scott extended the lead to 28-7 on a two-yard run up the middle. Darius Phillips replied with another score. This time it was a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The game was effectively over with about three minutes to go, when the Broncos failed to convert the fourth fourth-down in a single drive.
Western Michigan (0-2) takes the Darius Phillips show back to Kalamazoo next week, taking on the Idaho Vandals (1-0). We will see a new Buster Bronco mascot and, hopefully, a more productive Bronco offense. Michigan State (2-0) takes on Notre Dame (1-0) next in East Lansing.