FINAL: Michigan State defeats Western Michigan in season opener


MSU wide receiver Keon Coleman lines up out wide in the Spartans’ 48-31 win over Western Kentucky on Oct. 2, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Liam Jackson, Sports Editor

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State opened its season under much different circumstances than it did a season ago. The No. 15 ranked Spartans welcomed the Western Michigan Broncos with tangible energy and expectation surrounding the team. 73,000 fans crowded into Spartan Stadium to watch MSU defeat Western 35-13 on Friday night.

After an 11-win season a year ago, MSU seemed to be ahead of schedule in terms of competing for a Big Ten title. The Spartans returned the program’s leader in single-season passing touchdowns in Payton Thorne. Head coach Mel Tucker dipped into the transfer portal to supplement positions like running back and defensive end. All signs pointed to another stellar season.

However, Friday evening’s game was slight cause for concern. Injuries to safety Xavier Henderson and linebacker Darius Snow loom large for upcoming games.

Western kept the game within one possession late into the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Salopek was poised and helped the Broncos dominate the time of possession. 

On the flip side, Thorne did not play his best game in the green and white. He missed his partner-in-crime, Jayden Reed, on what would have been a long touchdown on the first drive of the game.\

“I was very disappointed with how I played,” said Thorne. “There were definitely times in the game where we couldn’t get anything going.”

One of those instances was an interception thrown by Thorne while MSU was near the red zone. 

“It was pretty stupid that’s what that was,” he said about his interception. 

Throughout it all, there were still some bright spots from Thorne on Friday.

He got some help from true freshman Germie Bernard later in the first quarter. Bernard turned his first career reception into a 44-yard touchdown to give MSU a 7-3 lead. 

Graduate transfer Daniel Barker provided a spark at the tight end position that Michigan State has not had in recent years. He hauled in a magnificent one-handed catch in the corner of the endzone to extend the lead to 14-3. 

Keon Coleman got in on the action as well. After hyping himself up during fall camp, Coleman backed up that talk with a contested catch in single coverage that resulted in a 41-yard score. 

Western made adjustments on defense in the second half. Transfer running back Jalen Berger was stripped and the Broncos recovered on MSU’s first possesion of the half. The Spartan offense finally broke through late in the fourth quarter for two late touchdowns to pull away. Berger registered his first score as a Spartan on a fourth down run from the one yard line. He ended up having a productive game with 120 yards to go along with his rushing touchdown. Thorne connected with Tre Mosley for a 43-yard score to extend the lead to 35-13.

MSU proved to be the more athletic and versatile team during most of the game. Transfer portal additions Khris Bogle, Jacoby Windmon and Aaron Brule gave the defense a spark on the edge. Windmon was especially dominant and seemed to live in the Broncos backfield all night. He finished with four sacks, seven total tackles and a forced fumble. 

Tucker and his team know there are things to improve upon heading into upcoming weeks. He said he expects the biggest improvement of the season to come in between the first two games. 

“I liked what I saw in the locker room after the game from our team and our leaders,” said Tucker. “It’s a hungry football team and we know that we need to get better.”

Michigan State plays next Saturday at home against Akron.