The Broncos lost a tough one to the Michigan State Spartans 35-13 on Friday night in Spartan Stadium.
Few expected the Broncos to bring the fight to East Lansing the way they did, but it was ultimately not enough. There were some inflection points in the game that could have sent the game in a different direction, but poorly timed penalties negated them.
The game opened with both teams trading three-and-out series. On the Broncos’ second drive of the game, they finally got the offense moving. Salopeck completed a 12-yard pass to Corey Crooms and nine yard catch to Kaveon Mack to keep the drive alive. A late hit penalty got WMU into the redzone, but they ultimately settled for a field goal.
The Spartans responded immediately with a six play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown. The scoring play was a 44-yard catch-and-run.
GERMIE BERNARD’S 1ST COLLEGE TD PUTS MICHIGAN STATE ON THE BOARD ⚔️pic.twitter.com/FSa71MWpfc— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 2, 2022
If the Broncos were able to force an incompletion or sack, it would have resulted in a fourth down. Giving up a third down and medium conversion isn’t fun, but allowing an explosive play is salt in the wound.
A quick three-and-out for the Broncos lead to the Spartans starting their next drive in plus territory. A third-down conversion later and a couple subsequent chunk plays, the Spartans were in the redzone and knocking the door again. With the first play of the second quarter, Payton Thorne connected with Daniel Barker for a magnificent one-handed, 13-yard touchdown pass.
Daniel Barker one hand catch for a TD for Michigan State— Alex (@dbs408) September 2, 2022
The ensuing kick off was returned to plus territory for the Broncos before it was wiped out by holding penalty. After the penalty killed some momentum, they failed to respond again. A short punt put the ball at the 50-yard line for Michigan State to start their next drive. Two plays later, they were in the endzone again with a 41-yard pass to Keon Coleman.
With the score 21-3 Michigan State, it looked like the wheels had fallen off for the Broncos.
The next drive started at their own 15, but moved quickly to the MSU redzone, eventually forcing a critical third-and-three situation. The Broncos did not score on the next play, but head coach Tim Lester has shown he will be aggressive in those situations. It was taken out of his hands by a holding penalty and the third-and-goal from the MSU 13 resulted in a strip sack, which Michigan State ultimately recovered.
The Bronco defense stepped up and carried the team for while starting with this drive. The Spartans punted after five plays, but Western Michigan squandered another drive with another fumble in MSU territory. Kenni-H Lovely intercepted a pass coming back over the middle of the field and Lester and co. took the ball game to half 21-3.
Neither offense covered themselves in glory in the first half. The Spartans had three touchdowns on three big plays but struggled to finish a long drive. That has been the Achilles heel for the Bronco defense and this half of football was a perfect case study.
The Bronco rushing attack was completely bottled up with a quarterback draw that got loose for 61 yards being the only exception. WMU quarterback Jack Salopek looked every part of a redshirt freshman getting his first game action in a Big Ten environment.
Michigan State dominated field position with their punter Bryce Baringer booming a few punts to flip the field. When the Broncos needed to punt they were unable to return the favor.
The Broncos moved the ball eleven yards on their first drive of the second half and punted. The defense forced a turnover on a play that certainly could’ve been whistled dead for forward progress, but Braden Fiske punched the ball out of a wrapped up running back’s arms and Aaron Wofford jumped on it.
The offense put a couple drives together, ultimately not enough. Starting on their own 33 and determined to not go three and out, the Broncos converted a fourth-and-one from their own 42-yard line. Two plays later, Sean Tyler ripped off a 45-yard run to the four-yard line. He scored on the next play to make it 21-10.
Michigan State gladly took 30 penalty yards from the Broncos to get the ball to the Western 20-yard line in four plays on the next drive. The drive stalled and the Spartans missed a field goal.
Western Michigan was able to convert a third-and-seven at the MSU 26-yard line to the 15 on the next drive. On first-and-10, Corey Crooms torched a safety with a double move and Salopek dropped it over shoulder for a touchdown, but center Jacob Gideon was an ineligible receiver downfield. The Broncos ultimately settled for a field goal to make it 21-13, which would ultimately come into play later on in the game.
Michigan State couldn’t figure out the Bronco defense again and ran the ball twice for three yards and threw an incomplete pass for a quick three and out. They were punting from their own 30-yard line and Baringer blasted a 70-yard punt to flip the field.
WMU failed to move the ball past midfield, but a nice punt pinned the Spartans at their own nine-yard line.
Then the Spartans showed their pedigree. They put game away with an eight-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that finished with a fourth-and-one conversion from the one-yard line. Two plays of 26 and 50 yards moved the ball inside the WMU 10-yard line and it was over from there.
Salopek wasn’t comfortable the rest of the game, finding himself under constant threat. He was sacked twice during the next series and once in the final drive. In between those drives, Thorne connected with Tre Mosley for a 43-yard touchdown. It removed all doubt, and covered the spread— though the game officially ended with a Jarek Broussard three-yard run with 29 seconds left.
The positives the Broncos can take away from week 1 are many.
Salopek looked to be a capable quarterback, and should only improve from here. The wide receivers are a solid group. Corey Crooms was heavily targeted and finished with five catches for 41 yards. The yardage leader was Jehlani Galloway with four catches for 70 yards.
Tight end Blake Bosma emerged as a solid asset and safety valve for Salopek. He caught five passes for 35 yards on the day.
The defense can shut teams down for extended stretches of the game, which is encouraging considering their opponenet today was a legitimate Top 15 opponent.
The explosive plays, however, are still a problem.
It’s possible this is the most explosive team they will see this year, but it’s not hard to be better than touchdowns of 44, 41 and 43 yards with a 50-yard rush leading to a short touchdown. There’s still time for improvement but it wasn’t there this week.
The offensive line will also need to keep Salopek cleaner than he was today. Salopek can probably get rid of the ball faster as well but seven sacks is too many to take. Jacoby Windmon terrorized whoever he lined up against and racked up four sacks on his own. The offensive line needs to improve their play.
The Broncos make a trip to Muncie to play Ball State on Saturday, Sept. 10, which should certainly an easier task than the one they faced today. They will be anxious to get back on the field and exorcise their demons from Week 1.