Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of the Spartans to the eyes of MSU football’s next foe. The State News asks the opposing team's beat reporter a few questions to see football through a different lens.
In Michigan State's opening-night win against Tulsa, its defense was stellar, while the offense was subpar. The 19th-ranked Spartans look to put it all together and move to 2-0 when they host Western Michigan at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Spartan Stadium (Big Ten Network).
To help preview this week’s matchup, The State News' Justin Frommer talked with the Western Herald's football reporter Seth Berry.
Q: With the amount of experience that Western Michigan brought into this season, is a trip to Ford Field for the conference championship game the expectation?
A: Yeah, I think so. The talk around Kalamazoo is to get to Ford Field. Tim Lester, his first couple of years, the first year he was getting his feet wet. Then the second year, last year, he still had a pretty young team but with all of the experience they return, especially on the defensive side of the ball ... (they) just have a lot of depth everywhere on the field. That's pretty much the expectation, to contend and get to Ford Field. Their schedule is tough at Toledo and Ohio in (Mid-American Conference) play. But, they are expected to contend to at least have a shot at getting there.
Q: Knowing what Michigan State accomplished with run defense last weekend, holding Tulsa to a school-record negative 73 rushing yards, what is the goal for WMU's LeVante Bellamy on Saturday.
A: I think that was one of the concerns that they had last week against Monmouth. I think after three quarters they averaged like 2.5 yards per carry in that game. But, like they talked about after the game, Monmouth ended up bringing an extra guy into the box and forced some one-on-one, favorable matchups for (WMU) in the passing game and the RPO game. So, that worked well for them. I think like Lester said, they still want to be balanced. It's important to be able to run and pass the ball. Against that Michigan State front and their defense as a whole, it's going to be hard for, I think Bellamy to find any holes. But he's one of those guys, if Michigan State gets out of their gaps or whatever, he can take it the distance, go 80-90 yards just all of a sudden.
(This answer was shortened due to clarity)
Q: Two seasons ago, quarterback Jon Wassink struggled against MSU's defense. What does he need to do Saturday to give Western Michigan a chance to win?
A: I think when you talk about Wassink, good quarterback. When he has time in the pocket he can really put it on the money. I think Western is like 7-1 in MAC play when he is the quarterback. He talked about, after the Monmouth game, Western having some different stuff in their offense to get rid of the ball a little more quickly. Just with Michigan State, the pressure they are going to bring, I think if he gets time in the pocket and time to throw, I think he can find guys. We will see if Western's receiver can get open in some one-on-one situations. They had Jaylen Reed transfer, obviously to Michigan State there, who was their top guy last year and then (D'Wayne) Eskridge move over to the other side of the ball. So, obviously they feel good at their receiver spot. You know, DaShon Bussell has made a lot of plays in week one, you have Jaylen Hall there, Giovanni Ricci the tight end, who is Wassink's roommate actually, so they have a good connection. If they give Wassink time to throw, he can pick defenses apart.
Q: Michigan State's offense's struggle bled into the 2019 season-opener, is that an area where you see WMU able to take advantage in to stay in the game?
A: I think that's the hope going into the game on Western's end. Their defense, obviously not great last year, did a lot to try to improve it this year. They have a lot of guys on the defensive line, Will McCabe at defensive tackle is one of them who has to get more reps because Wesley French, one of the seniors, go out with a season-ending injury before the year. They rotate a lot of guys on that defensive line. They don't necessarily have a great pass rush, but a lot of guys who can rotate in there and keep fresh, which could be a challenge for Michigan State's offense. Week one we saw Michigan State really have trouble running the ball even against Tulsa's front there, so I think if you're Western, that's the key matchup is Michigan State's offense against Western's defense, because if they can hold them, manage to keep them under 27 or 24 points, they will have a chance to win the game.
(This answer was shortened due to clarity)
Q: How do you see the game playing out, what is your final score prediction, and why?
A: First of all, I think the 15.5 spread is high, especially for a game that I expect to be probably pretty low-scoring. I think Michigan State will be able to contain Western Michigan's offense. But, Western does have an experienced offensive line. Luke Juriga, the center, he's a potential NFL guy at Western there, a senior who moved over from right guard last year. So, Western does have some experience on the offensive line, but like I said that Michigan State front is another animal. I think it will be tough sledding for Western on offense. They will be able to move the ball from time to time, make some plays and get in the end zone a couple of times. But, I have Michigan State winning.
Prediction, 24-17 Michigan State