Defense pounds Broncos, collects sacks in confidence-boosting win
The Spartan defense knew who and what Western Michigan featured when the Broncos rolled into town.
After all, this was the same team that put up a combined 263 yards rushing against then-No. 4 Southern California.
And if MSU had its own three-headed monster tailbacks, then Western Michigan did too. So from there, the game plan was simple.
“The goal was to stop the run,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “That’s the goal every week, but we knew for sure they were going to come in here and try to run the ball on us. And so our guys stepped up to the challenge.”
The comfortable 28-14 win over the Broncos wasn’t so bad for the youthful defense. The stats tell the story like sweet music to MSU fans.
The Broncos were abysmal at converting third downs, finishing just 1-for-15 on the day. Quarterback Jon Wassink never looked quite settled in against the pass rush, finishing 11 of 26 for 79 yards throwing.
That three-headed running attack? It certainly had its moments. LeVante Bellamy showed some moves, collecting 67 yards rushing on 12 carries. A solid statline as part of a losing effort.
The Broncos scored only two touchdowns, but those were courtesy of jack-of-all-trades Darius Phillips, taking a fumble and kickoff to the house. But make no mistake, the defense was the highlight of the game.
For the second straight week, the Spartan defenders denied the opposition the end zone.
“Confidence is high,” linebacker Andrew Dowell said. “We know what we can do. We have a big challenge in two weeks for Notre Dame so we have a lot of time to prepare for that. But confidence is high, we’re playing Spartan football.”
One week ago, against an inferior Bowling Green team, MSU came out with just one sack. The Spartans thought they had more opportunities, but those chances didn’t lead to conversions.
From there, questions arose. The Spartans amassed just 11 sacks in 2016, would the disturbing trend continue?
The answer was a resounding no. Wassink was pressured multiple times and sacked four separate times. MSU’s five sacks this season is almost half of what it had all of last year.
“That was a huge thing we focused on this offseason, just getting sacks, getting pressure on the QB,” Dowell said. “Today we did that. We look forward to continuing our progress.”
And in typical fashion, the Eagle Council led the way. All three starting linebackers, Dowell, sophomore Joe Bachie and senior Chris Frey made a significant impact. The trio, all Eagles, combined for 24 total tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.
Bachie left the field seemingly with an injury but came back just in time to lead the team in tackles for the second straight game.
“We try to be the leaders of the defense,” Dowell said. “We try to be steering the ship. It helps me make plays on the field so everybody rallies around us so we can continue to take guys with us.”
Of course, it wasn’t just the linebackers. True freshman cornerback Josiah Scott had the Spartan faithful reminiscing of the “No Fly Zone,” this time contributing his first career interception.
MSU heads into another early bye week, which players had mixed feelings on. But it does give the team extra time to prepare for its next opponent — Notre Dame.
“I mean we can sit here and be happy but we know that there is always going to be room to improve,” Frey said. “We just have to continue to get better every week, studying the opponent.”