Monday, June 1, 2020

Scouting Western Michigan: Spartans are readying for matchup against experienced Broncos

September 4, 2019
Senior safety David Dowell (6) breaks up a pass. The green team beat the white team, 42-26, in the MSU Spring football game at Spartan Stadium on April 13, 2019.
Senior safety David Dowell (6) breaks up a pass. The green team beat the white team, 42-26, in the MSU Spring football game at Spartan Stadium on April 13, 2019. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Brian Lewerke faked the hand-off to LJ Scott and took off down the middle of the field. A quick jump-cut and 61 yards of blazing speed later, Michigan State led 7-0 late in the first quarter against Western Michigan.

MSU, a team trying to build itself back from a 3-9 season, defeated the Broncos 28-14 in the second game of the 2017 season. Two years later, the Broncos will be back in East Lansing when the 19th-ranked Spartans host WMU this Saturday (7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).

Though numerous players from both teams will back in Spartan Stadium for the newest edition of the in-state matchup, MSU and WMU couldn't be any more different from two seasons ago.

"The guys are able to turn on the film, and a lot of our guys see themselves play," Defensive Coordinator Mike Tressel said. "You turn on the film and see Joe [Bachie] in the middle, see Raequan [Williams] and Mike [Panasiuk] on the inside and David Dowell out there ... We feel like we are a lot better than we were two years ago, and I know they are a lot better than they were two years ago, so it's another ball game."

The Broncos present a much more experienced and higher level of competition than Tulsa did last Friday for a Spartan defense that set a school record, giving up negative 73 rushing yards in their season opener against the Golden Hurricane.

"These guys are a completely different challenge than Tulsa was,” Tressel said.

RELATED: Western Michigan is up to the task against Michigan State's run defense

Western Michigan, who was rebuilding in its own right under first-year coach Tim Lester two seasons ago, brought a young offense into East Lansing, and MSU's defense took advantage.

Jon Wassink, then a sophomore, threw for 79 yards against the Spartans' defense on 11 of 26 passing. He also threw an interception - Josiah Scott's first-career pick - and was sacked four times.

LeVante Bellamy was also a sophomore two seasons ago. He carried the ball 12 times for 67 yards.

As they are now both seniors, the leaders of WMU's offense look to rectify their past performances.

They are going to be confident," Joe Bachie said. "The quarterback had four or five touchdowns last week. Bellamy, he’s quick, probably one of the faster, if not the fastest, we’ll play all year. We’ve seen him on film. They can come at us either way.”

The Broncos (1-0) defeated Monmouth 48-13 in their home opener. Wassink threw for 368 yards and five touchdowns, completing 20 of his 25 attempts. Bellamy added a score on the ground, running for 53 yards on 18 carries. It was two nearly perfect performances from seniors that are making one final push in college football.

Kenny Willekes said that it will be good for MSU's defense to be able to go back and watch the film of that 2017 matchup to try to prepare for the challenge that Wassink and Bellamy will provide. Their performances last week only reinforce that notion.

"We all evolved as players on defense," Willekes said. "I'm sure they evolved and got much better as well, so it’s going to be a different game."

MSU hasn't lost to WMU since Oct. 11, 1919, and the Spartans will look to continue that trend on Saturday night. Only now, they will have to do it against a much more experienced WMU.

“We’re excited for Western to come in here," Willekes said. "They've got a good team, solid offensive line. They work real well together ... very experienced quarterback, proven winner. They've got a couple fast skill guys on the outside and at the running back position. So, we’re excited for the matchup, and we are ready to go."

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