Dandron: Ugly jerseys on their backs, Spartans offense gets pretty

Mark Dantonio ties MSU all-time win record with rout of Western Michigan

Joe Dandron, Football Writer / Sports Director

EAST LANSING — As Michigan State stepped onto the field Saturday against Western Michigan, the fans finally got to see the jerseys they had so much disdain for. And with those ugly jerseys on their backs, the Spartans gave the fans a game they enjoyed watching.

Offense. A lot of offense.

It felt fitting that tonight would go the way it would, as Dantonio tied Duffy Daughterty’s all time win record with 109 in his tenure.

“It’s a beautiful feeling when everything is clicking,” said Darell Stewart. “One thing that I love about our coaching staff, they believe in us.”

The Spartans gained 365 total yards of offense in the first half of a 51-17 victory over WMU on Saturday night – 61 more yards than they had in the entire week one matchup with Tulsa.

The offense came in a lot of different ways too in that first half alone. 

Stewart passing to Brian Lewerke for 17 yards – yes you read that right, 192 rushing yards for Elijah Collins, and 185 receiving yards for Stewart as well.

“The biggest thing you know, even talking on Monday or Tuesday with you guys, I felt it was in ‘em you know,” said offensive coordinator Brad Salem following the win. “Felt like we would play better in the first game. I do think when it becomes real, you know last Saturday guys see how real games played and how much concentration it takes.”

Don’t get me wrong; this Bronco defense is nowhere near as talented as Tulsa’s, I truly believe that.

That is a big reason why the Spartan offense looked so good – but they genuinely played well against a team coming off a 48-13 win over Monmouth.

It’s why it was surprising as the Spartans unveiled their new uniforms that so many hated, fans left the stadium smiling for maybe the unlikeliest of reasons. The offense that so many had questions about was able to finally answer them in resounding fashion.

“We did what we needed to do in terms of playing hard, playing with toughness, knowing what to do,” said Dantonio following the win. “Our offensive line did an outstanding job.”

Collins separates himself from the pack

Collins, a redshirt freshman of all experience levels, absolutely separated himself from the rest of the running back group on Saturday night. 

With an 11.3 yards per carry average for 192 yards, the local kid, Collins played at University Detroit-Jesuit in high school, capitalized his powerful night with a 58-yard run that almost went for a touchdown early in the second half.

“For me I just look at it like playing football. I played football my whole life so each time they called my number … they believed in me,” said Collins. “We knew that we could definitely do some things, we saw a lot of it in spring and over the summer, during practice.” 

Collins was a huge part of why MSU was able to get into the half with a 31-7 lead, before also scored their most points since 2015. 

“We sort of got the tailback by committee and he’s done a nice job, had some good carries last week. So we felt like let’s start out with him,” said Salem. “And it’s always been that way … it was kind of whoever got hot.”

Offensive line gets “tough”

Offensive line is the toughest position on the football field. The position takes a grit and will to win that is not required anywhere else – specifically because of the importance of individual matchups.

Dantonio spoke back on Tuesday about that.

“I see guys blocking at the point of attack, throwing a shoulder in there, not addressing a defender, can’t happen,” Dantonio said days earlier at his weekly presser.
“We’ve predicated ourselves on being tough here any way you cut it.”

The offensive line stepped up in a big way against WMU, which was a massive part of why Collins was able to play the way he did. You will see it with the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and you saw it Saturday night.

Late in the third quarter, Lewerke one of his cleanest pockets all night on a rollout to his right.

The initial push on the play from the offensive line was better than you may have seen all game long against Tulsa, the only reason Lewerke was chased on the play was because he was rolling away from the pocket after initially standing tall.

“I think we showed it real well,” said right tackle Jordan Reid when asked about being tough. “I mean the numbers speak for itself, Elijah (Collins) had a really good running performance today.” 

Make no mistake, the Bronco defense doesn’t contain the edge rusher that Tulsa’s Trevis Gipson is. But it still was unable to get to Lewerke once, an impressive stat.

Yes, the defense is still very good

With all the talk about the play of the offense on Saturday, the defense of MSU played exceptionally well against a very potent WMU offense. 

“We’re hard to run on you know we got a good front four,” said Dantonio. “We alternate some guys in there … so-called backups, they’re really not. Our defensive tackles are very solid as well and our linebackers are very good. We fit the run scheme and our players understand how they fit.”

Western Michigan’s quarterback John Wassink was coming off a five-touchdown, 368-yard performance in the routh of Monmouth but was unable to ever get into a rhythm. 

Wassink was sacked three times, twice by Kenny Willekes, and also threw two interceptions. 

Michigan State can only hope that the strong play of the team carries over to their rematch with Arizona State next Saturday. The Spartans will look to avenge the 16-13 loss in Tempe, Arizona last fall.

Twitter: @JosephDandronMI

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