Fresh off USC scare, new-look Broncos head to East Lansing

After convincingly beating Bowling Green 35-10 last week in their season opener, Michigan State (1-0) will have a much tougher task in their matchup with Western Michigan this Saturday. The Broncos (0-1) are coming off a 13-1 season, losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, and pushed No. 4 USC to the brink last week.

With the departure of PJ Fleck to Minnesota, this is a Western Michigan team still trying to find out which direction the team is going under new head coach Tim Lester. The direction they started their season heading in is just fine.

What the Broncos did last weekend in Southern California should have many Spartan fans and coaches on alert of the looming and daunting task they have on their hands, when they host WMU on Saturday.

Fresh off their Cotton Bowl trip, the Broncos hung toe-for-toe with the fourth-ranked USC Trojans through 3 ½ quarters. The Broncos had SC fans on upset alert as they took a 28-28 game into the fourth quarter. The Trojans pulled away late in the game, outscoring the Broncos 21-3 in the final 7:54 of the game.

WMU’s defense showed an impressive effort in stifling Heisman candidate sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold did not throw a touchdown pass on the day and was picked off twice. He did, however, throw for 289 yards on 23/33 passing, including picking up a touchdown using his legs. The Broncos also gave up a whopping 521 yards to the Trojans in their loss, surprising for a defense who just a season ago allowed only 353 yards per game, second-best in the MAC.

In his debut as the Broncos’ starter, sophomore QB Jon Wassink threw for only 67 yards and an interception. Wassink did rush for a score and he also caught a touchdown pass on a trick play.

The game plan is simple for the Spartans heading into the matchup: make the inexperienced Wassink beat themthrough the air. The difficult part for the Spartans will be slowing down the Broncos’ three-headed rushing attack.

WMU jammed the ball down the Trojans’ throat, rushing the ball 48 times for a whopping 263 yards. Their trio of Jamauri Bogan, Jarvion Franklin and LeVante Bellamy can all put pressure on opposing defenses. Bellamy led the Broncos in rushing, going for 109 yards on just nine carries against the Trojans. Franklin rushed for 1,353 yards last season — good enough for 2nd-best in the MAC, only behind Toledo star and now Kansas City Chiefs starting running back Kareem Hunt.

WMU has an offensive line that most Power Five teams would love to have, averaging 306 lbs, including potential top-ten 2018 NFL draft pick in left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. After being selected first team All-MAC in 2016, Okorafor looks like the next OT not named Taylor Moton, to head to the NFL from WMU in the last two years.

MSU will have their eye very closely on Bronco defensive back Darius Phillips. If the name doesn’t sound familiar to Spartan fans, it should. Phillips brought back the opening kickoff 75 yards against the Spartans in 2015, and on the same night, returned one 100 yards for a score as well. The Spartans special teams will have to gameplan accordingly for the explosive return man.

Coming off a resounding win over a not-so impressive Bowling Green team, this matchup is a good one to gauge the Spartans’ competitiveness and where they feel they sit at for this season. It’d be in MSU’s best interest to not take a 28-28 game late into the fourth, so coming out to a fast start will be pivotal against a team like WMU. With their early week-three bye right around the corner, a double-digit win for MSU will have fans feeling comfortable heading into their bye week sitting at 2-0.