On Saturday, the Michigan State Spartans defeated the Western Michigan Broncos 28-14 at Spartan Stadium, securing their second victory to start the year, and putting themselves two-thirds of the way to their 2016 victory total of three. It seems clear that these Spartans are not the same team that disappointed so many a season ago.
Quarterback, Brian Lewerke, is already better than Tyler O’Connor was last season. The defense, which looked lost at times last year, has been very impressive, and Michigan State looks like a team to be reckoned with in 2017. Here are the three biggest takeaways from their victory over the Broncos.
Defense is the key to victory
Michigan State has won their first two games by a combined score of 63-24. On Saturday, they held a Western Michigan team that scored 31 points on No. 4 Southern California last week, to 14 points. But of the 24 points scored against MSU so far, only three have come against the defense. After allowing just a field goal against Bowling Green State University in Michigan State’s 35-10 victory in Week 1, the Spartan defense pitched a shutout against the Broncos, giving up just 185 total yards of offense. WMU quarterback Jon Wassink was just 11-for-26 for 79 yards, and LeVante Bellamy, who ran for over 100 yards on just 9 carries against the Trojans last week, was held to 67 yards on 12 carries against the Spartans. The front seven has been creating pressure, and the secondary has picked off the opposing quarterbacks in both games played. As this secondary continues to gain confidence and experience, things could only look up for the Michigan State defense.
Ground the Broncos
While Western Michigan could only muster 185 yards of offense, the Spartan rushing attack approached the 300-yard mark. LJ Scott gained 86 yards on 18 carries, Darrell Stewart Jr. had 70 of his 108 total yards on the ground, and Lewerke ran for 81 yards, including the longest play of his career, when he faked a handoff and rushed right up the gut for a 61-yard touchdown. All told, the Michigan State ground game gained 296 yards, averaged six yards per carry, and put it in the endzone three times.
Darius Phillips is a BEAST
Let’s get this part straight, Michigan State owned this game, dominating the Broncos on offense and defense, and punter Jake Hartbarger had some nice punts to put Western Michigan deep in their own end. But if it wasn’t for Broncos CB/KR/PR Darius Phillips, this game would’ve been at least a 35-0 game, if not more. But Phillips stripped Spartan wide receiver Hunter Rison in the third quarter, returning it for the Broncos first score, and following an LJ Scott 2-yard touchdown that seemingly put the game out of reach 28-7 in the fourth quarter, Phillips returned the kickoff 100 yards to give us our final score of 28-14. The senior added to his totals of 11 career touchdowns coming into the game, as he now has 13 touchdowns scored in five different ways (kick return, punt return, interception, fumble return, and receiving). Expect to see this kid playing football on Sundays.
Despite Darius Phillips doing what Darius Phillips does, the Spartans were the aggressor, the Spartans were the better team, and the Spartans dominated a ball game that many questioned whether they would even win. It’s a much better start to 2017 than it was 2016, and with a schedule that does not see MSU leave the state of Michigan until mid-October, don’t be surprised if you start seeing Michigan State’s name inching toward the Top-25 polls.