By MATTHEW B. MOWERY, Associated Press
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Mark Dantonio certainly didn’t mind that the primetime season opener for this week’s opponent, Western Michigan, was just about to start by the time his Michigan State team finished off a comfortable win over Bowling Green last Saturday.
If his young Spartans weren’t impressed by the Mid-American Conference champions’ run to the Cotton Bowl a year ago, the Broncos hanging with Southern Cal served as a reminder of the respect Western Michigan has earned.
“I think it was impressive. They had an opportunity to beat the No. 4 team in the country,” Dantonio said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I think it was also impressive that they hung right there and had a chance to win in the Cotton Bowl, and obviously what they were able to accomplish last year.”
After having their way with Bowling Green, the Spartans will face a stiffer test from the Broncos, who kept it to a two-score margin last time around.
“Go a little farther back, to 2015, and our football game with them — just like every football game — was not just a walk in there and, ‘Hey, let’s go,'” Dantonio said. “It was extremely competitive. Their players are from this area of the country, predominantly, and they know a lot of our players, and they’re going to compete. You can tell how hard they compete on film. It’s impressive.”
That 2015 game in Kalamazoo provides some insight for what Michigan State will face Saturday in Spartan Stadium. A few players remain for both teams, notably Western Michigan kick returner Darius Phillips, who has eight career return touchdowns, including one for 100 yards against the Spartans in 2015 and another in the fourth quarter against USC last Saturday.
“He was a big virtual unknown to us on that particular day, back in ’15, but we know who he is now, so we’ll get ourselves ready,” Dantonio said.
There’s some familiarity with Western Michigan’s defensive schemes, as well, considering coordinator Tim Daoust was a graduate assistant on Dantonio’s staff in Cincinnati, and uses some of the same principles.
It’s when the Broncos have the ball that there might be some surprises, considering there’s only one game tape of a Division I team playing under new coach Tim Lester or behind sophomore quarterback Jon Wassink. Dantonio said it helps that the Spartans have game-planned for years against Western Michigan offensive coordinator Kevin Johns, who spent six seasons at Indiana after six years at Northwestern.
“There’s not much for us to go off of. Just one game, so we’re going to continue studying that film, and see what they did differently, and try to master what they do,” defensive captain Chris Frey said. “As a linebacker and our linebacker corps, we’re really looking forward to this game, because we’re going to be playing downhill, and we’re going to be able to make some plays on their side of the ball.”
Much like the Spartans, the Broncos also have a three-man tailback rotation — LeVante Bellamy, Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin — that racked up 263 yards against USC.
The Spartans are going to have to do more of what they did against Bowling Green — stop the run, handle sudden-change situations, limit explosive plays and get off the field on third down — to beat Western Michigan. Bowling Green gained just 212 yards and scored three points on offense.
“I thought we played well inside, we held the point, and built the wall,” Dantonio said. “That’s what we’re going to have to do this week, because they’re a big zone team, and the things they do are difficult to defend. And, as we said, their backs are very, very good.”
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