EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Payton Thorne capped three straight drives with touchdown passes in the first half and threw for a fourth score in the final quarter to help No. 15 Michigan State pull away and beat Western Michigan 35-13 on Friday night.
The Spartans played well in spurts, but also struggled for long stretches against the Broncos in the opener. After taking a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter, they allowed an average Mid-American Conference team to pull within eight points late in the third quarter.
Michigan State was fortunate Thorne’s uneven performance included four touchdowns to match his career high. He finished 12 of 24 for 233 yards with an interception.
Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger ran for a career-high 120 yards and a touchdown that gave the Spartans a 28-13 lead with 6:28 remaining. Thorne’s fourth touchdown, a 43-yard pass to Tre Mosley, on the next drive ended any doubt about the outcome.
After a slow start, Thorne threw a short pass to freshman Germie Bernard, whose speed turned the play into a 44-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. Illinois transfer Daniel Barker used only his right hand to catch a 13-yard pass for a score and Keon Coleman ran under a 41-yard pass to put Michigan State ahead 21-3 early in the second quarter.
Western Michigan pulled within 11 points midway through the third quarter, when it converted a fourth-and-1 at its 42 and Sean Tyler ran for a 4-yard touchdown a snap after picking up 45 yards on the ground.
The Broncos made it 21-13 late in the third when Palmer Domschke made a 42-yard kick, but they couldn’t make enough plays on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter and fell to 1-30 against ranked teams.
Michigan State’s defense took a hit in the first half, losing linebacker Darius Snow and safety Xavier Henderson after both appeared to have injured their right legs.
Western Michigan: Jack Salopek had an encouraging first start, completing 21 of 36 passes for 193 yards and running for 61 yards on a draw.
Michigan State: If Snow and Henderson are injured significantly, that will hurt the team’s chances to improve a defense that ranked last against the pass in FBS in 2021.
The Spartans likely will slip a little in the poll after a lackluster performance in a game they were favored to win by three touchdowns.
Western Michigan: Plays at Ball State on Sept. 10 and hosts No. 17 Pittsburgh the following week.
Michigan State: Hosts Akron on Sept. 10 and goes on the road to play Washington in a night game on Sept. 17.