EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — After his team trailed by double digits for most of the night and lost by 34 points, Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester wasn’t what feeling what he had hoped for.
Yet, there were a lot of positives the coach found in the Broncos’ 51-17 loss to Michigan State at Spartan Stadium Saturday night.
“A lot of good and lot of bad. We have to fix the bad and be proud of the good,” Lester said. “When you face the No. 1 defense, or one of the top defenses, it’s not going to be easy by any means. But we did some really good things and we got to build on them.”
The Broncos didn’t keep any containment on MSU’s offense (which has been heavily criticized of late) to open the night. MSU went 79 yards on five plays in 1:34 to open the game. Then the Broncos allowed 69 yards in nine plays over 2:43 on the Spartans’ next offensive look.
It wasn’t a recipe to keep the crowd in their seats in a nearly sold-out Spartan Stadium.
On the flip side, the Bronco offense sputtered early. While quarterback Jon Wassink did find some completions, first downs to keep drives alive weren’t happening. That put the WMU defense back out on the field quickly.
And MSU kept punching them in the mouth.
The Spartans accumulated only two plays of 20 or more yards against Tulsa in Week 1. Against WMU, they sprayed six of them in the first quarter alone. The result was 21-0 at the end of the opening 15 minutes. WMU had to find answers quickly to avoid plummeting right out of the game.
To open the second quarter, WMU did just that. On a fourth and two on the MSU 14 yard line, Wassink took a shotgun snap, scanned his option and delivered a laser over the middle. Connecting on the crossing route was Giovanni Ricci for the score as he dove across the goal line. WMU had life and was on the board.
Then the defense woke up to make a big play. On a pass from Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke that ping-ponged between defenders, WMU’s Najee Clayton wound up with the ball in his fingertips at the MSU 45.
The chill air filled with life as Spartan Stadium began to grow uneasy. Wassink led WMU down the field to keep MSU on the ropes.
“Western has a good rhythm and Wassink is an outstanding quarterback that can get the ball out quick,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said after the game. “He made some throws and we sort of had to play through it.”
The Spartans did just that.
WMU was forced to attempt a field goal on the next possession that was missed from Thiago Kapps for the second time, this one from just 27 yards out.
MSU took over and regained control of the contest. The Spartans pumped out an efficient nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive in 3:40. They led 28-7. Then when WMU got inside the red zone again, Wassink threw an interception in the end zone.
Between two trips to the red zone with no points and two missed field goals, WMU left a lot of points on the field in the first half. That left the Broncos trailing 31-7 heading into the locker room. They would never get back within striking distance.
“The interception at the three, that one hurt,” Lester said. “Jon saw what he saw, but the location of the ball wasn’t where we wanted it to be. When they come off, we work on our red zone plays and the little things we need to do better. It was hard to run the ball down there on them.”
For the night, the Broncos totaled 352 yards of offense, 285 of them through the air. That left just 67 yards to the ground game, where Lester said it was hard for his team all game.
“They (the Spartans) are No. 1 against the run for a reason,” Lester said with a laugh. “We had a pretty good mix going, just throwing it 37 times, which is less than I thought. Really, it just comes down to we have to finish (drives).”
The Broncos did manage to go 3-of-3 on first down, but staggered on third down to 5-of-16. Whether it was possessions, downs and distance or red zone chances, they didn’t come up with the plays they needed to stay in the game.
Turning those into more points and first downs is what they will look to do next in the young season.