WMU Looks Dangerous Again Heading into Michigan State Matchup
NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer--
In its first game after losing P.J. Fleck, Zach Terrell and Corey Davis, Western Michigan still looked plenty capable of competing against top competition. That adds a bit of buzz to this weekend's game at Michigan State.
WMU went unbeaten in the regular season in 2016 before winning the Mid-American Conference title and eventually falling to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. Terrell, the quarterback, and Davis, the star receiver, were seniors. Fleck, the Broncos' up-and-coming coach, left to take over at Minnesota. None of that seemed like a big deal when WMU kept it close in a 49-31 loss to Southern California last weekend.
Tim Lester, the Broncos' new coach, was pleased with how his players handled themselves in their most recent big game.
"They showed up and they were focused," Lester said. "That made it about the football and not about the environment."
If WMU wants to establish itself as a clear threat to win another MAC title, beating another Big Ten school would certainly be a statement. The Broncos topped Northwestern and Illinois during last year's run.
Michigan State is coming off a dreadful 3-9 season but handled Bowling Green 35-10 in this year's opener. Every game is crucial for the Spartans. If they lose to WMU, it could be a tough road back to bowl eligibility.
Michigan State's defense shut down Bowling Green but will now be tested by a WMU team that ran for 263 yards against USC.
"They played very well against USC obviously. I'm sure everybody saw that football game, and you know, MAC champions and playing in the Cotton Bowl last year," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "So they played at a high level and they expect to win and it will be another challenge for us."
Here are a few more things to watch when the Spartans host the Broncos:
Michigan State sophomore Brian Lewerke played well against Bowling Green, throwing for 250 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a team-high 69 yards, and his comfort level running the ball certainly has Lester's attention.
"You have to be more disciplined, and you've got to make sure you account for the one extra thing that could happen on every play," the WMU coach said. "It definitely changes things."
Jon Wassink, Terrell's replacement, threw for only 67 yards with an interception against USC. He did run for a touchdown, and he caught a 27-yard TD pass from Keishaw Watson on a trick play.
Jamauri Bogan, who ran for nearly 2,000 yards over his first two seasons at WMU, was part of that impressive ground game against USC, and teammate LeVant Bellamy rushed for 102 yards against the Trojans.
Michigan State standout LJ Scott had an inauspicious start to the season, losing two fumbles against Bowling Green.
"He's more frustrated than I am, and now we just move on," Dantonio said. "Obviously you can't do that on a consistent basis, but I don't really worry about him — I don't worry about that being a problem with him, and I think he's a very good running back, and I think he's got talent and he'll be confident, and he'll be excited to play."
WMU's Darius Phillips returned a kick for a touchdown against USC and also did it against Michigan State back in 2015.
Michigan State is set to wear a white uniform-helmet combination, the first time the Spartans have ever done that at home.