EAST LANSING, MICH.— You won’t have to tell Michigan State that defense wins championships twice after their 28-14 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon.
Don’t let the score fool you. The Spartan defense didn’t give up a single point.
MSU cornerback Josiah Scott made an early statement by picking off Bronco quarterback Jon Wassink on the opening drive. He also had a broken up pass later in the game. He was ranked as the top freshman of week one by Pro Football Focus, and looked the part on Saturday.
The very next drive, Gerald Holmes entered as MSU’s starting running back. He complimented an early 16-yard completion to Felton Davis III with a powerful run for five yards to the Western 41-yard line.
Two incompletions later, MSU was forced to punt. But an excellent punt by Jake Hartbarger to the Bronco 4-yard line assisted in a field position battle that the Spartans won for most of the half.
LJ Scott entered the game on the Spartans’ second drive. Following a Bronco penalty for 12 men on the field, he rushed the ball three times for 13 yards. Then, the Spartans got a little creative.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke received the ball from the shotgun, faked the handoff to Scott and rushed it himself. He took it 61 yards untouched straight to the house. It was the longest touchdown run from an MSU QB since Charlie Baggett in 1973.
“I was a little bit surprised,” Lewerke said of his 61-yard touchdown. “I know I have some speed, [but] I wasn’t sure if I was going to get past everyone… I made the right read, obviously, and I just saw the defense open up and the backside safety like flew over the top and thought that LJ had the ball, so it just opened up a huge hole for me.”
Lewerke finished the game with 161 passing yards and 86 on the ground. The Spartan offense finished with 457 yards.
With 2:45 remaining in the first quarter, Lewerke threw his first interception of the year to Western cornerback Darius Phillips. The Broncos, however, could not capitalize.
In fact, Western’s offense could not muster much of anything the entire game. They only gained 195 yards the entire game. They also surrendered four sacks from multiple Spartan defenders. With this, MSU is already only six sacks away from tying their total from 2016.
Wassink also struggled mightily. The Broncos’ offensive power typically comes from the running game, but with only 116 total rushing yards, much of the weight fell on Wassink, who went 11-26 with 79 yards.
Early in the second quarter, the Spartans put together another big offensive drive starting from their own 49-yard line. From there, MSU got very clever with the use of their three-headed monster running back trio.
Madre London received the ball three times in a row, first on a swing route, then a jet sweep and finally for a run up the middle for a first down. Following an 11-yard reception for Davis III, Lewerke found LJ Scott on a wheel route for a 15-yard touchdown to put the Spartans up 14-0 heading into halftime.
The Broncos held a bit of a resistance early in the third quarter. Phillips added to his turnover total with a 67-yard scoop-and-score on a fumble by MSU wideout Hunter Rison on a jet sweep with 8:43 remaining in the third quarter. This made it 14-7.
“That guy can play, he is a good player,” MSU co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said of Phillips. “He is at Western, so that means a lot of people overlooked him.”
But that score didn’t last long.
Darrell Stewart led the Spartans the very next drive with a 46-yard jet sweep to the sideline, followed by an inside cut to the WMU 1-yard line. Stewart built upon his excellent start to the 2017 campaign with 33 receiving yards and 70 more on the ground. Lewerke quickly got to the line of scrimmage and snuck behind his blockers for a one-yard MSU touchdown, making the score 21-7.
Up 14 in the fourth quarter, MSU kept their feet on the gas pedal by going for it on fourth-and-one with 14:29 remaining, resulting in a 44-yard rush to the near sideline. He muscled the ball in a couple plays later to put the Spartans up 28-7 with 10:48 left. Scott finished the day with a team-leading 86 rushing yards and 25 more in the air.
“I said we were going for it on fourth-and-one,” Dantonio said. “I felt like you got to be able to get a yard sometimes. You got to be able to get the inches.”
The Broncos tailed MSU’s touchdown with a score of their own. But they still couldn’t get at the defense. Phillips once again came in clutch for the Broncos with a hundred-yard kick return for a touchdown to make the score 28-14. MSU proceeded to get the win and advance to 2-0 on the season.
Michigan State was not perfect by any stretch. Ball security remains an issue while they yet again struggled to protect the deep ball. Luckily for MSU, they have yet to face a quality quarterback.
Still, MSU had Western’s number from the first play of the game. The score was fairly close, but the Broncos’ offensive woes never gave them a chance to come back once down.
Michigan State has a bye next week and will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish under the lights on Sept. 23. Kickoff is 8 p.m. in East Lansing. Coverage is via FOX.