It could be a historic night in East Lansing on Saturday, because if No. 19-ranked Michigan State can beat Western Michigan at Spartan Stadium, coach Mark Dantonio with tie Duffy Daugherty for the most wins in school history with 109.
That’s impressive. And it should happen. Michigan State is a 15-point over Western Michigan, which is 1-0 after beating Monmouth 48-13 last week. The Broncos have kept it close — within two touchdowns — in recent meetings in 2013, 2015 and 2019. But it’s been exactly 100 years since Western last won a game in the series.
Here are five things I’d like to see from the Spartans in Saturday night’s game against Western Michigan:
1. Another dominating performance by the defense
Michigan State’s run defense was No. 1 in the country is 2018, and its picked up right where it left off, holding Tulsa to minus-73 yards rushing a week ago in a 28-7 win. They are a scary good unit, with stars at every level. “They present a lot of problems, and everyone’s trying to solve them,” WMU coach Tim Lester said. “It’ll be a great challenge.” While they are on a roll, they might as well keep crushing people. “It’s really hard to point to anybody on defense who did not play well,” Dantonio said. “They all graded at winning level.”
2. Don’t take anyone lightly on this schedule
Michigan State simply isn’t good enough on offense right now to coast past anyone on its schedule, and Western Michigan is no different. Plus, these in-state games are scary, because the Broncos players — many of whom would have liked to have been recruited by Michigan State but weren’t — will play like there’s nothing to lose. “I think our guys will have motivation this week,” Dantonio said.
3. Getting the running game going
The Spartans have been struggling to run the ball of a long time, and that’s still a problem early in 2019. They were able to muster only 108 yards rushing on 40 carries, for a paltry 2.7-yard average per carry. Michigan State also committed 14 penalties for 122 yards against Tulsa, which kept knocking the rhythm out of the offense. “We’ve obviously got to be much more productive this week,” said Michigan State’s first-year offensive coordinator Brad Salem. “Growth has to occur every week in the game of football.”
4. And start passing the ball well, too
With a senior at quarterback, you’d think Brian Lewerke and the offense would have hit a few big plays along the way. Instead, on 38 pass plays they gained only 195 yards. That’s not much, that 5.1-yard average. It’s time for that group to start putting up some bigger numbers.
5. Start stepping up and looking like a contender
Even during last year’s disappointing season, a Spartans win still often looked ugly. That happened again in the opener and Dantonio would like to see that change. He doesn’t dismiss the value of a win, but he’s like to see better execution all the same. “We’re 1-0. There are a lot of people out there that are 0-1,” Dantonio said. “A lot of people wish they could have played poorly a little bit and still won. That’s the message, as well. We won the football game, and we won the football game decidedly, I felt. But you’re chasing perfection, and you’re always trying to get better.”