Rapid Reaction: No. 5 Spartans clicking early in win over Western Michigan
Final: No. 5 Michigan State 37, Western Michigan 24
Telling stat: MSU’s 10-for-15 third-down conversion rate
Nothing says, “veteran quarterback” like a high third-down conversion rate. Connor Cook was money in key situations all night. He and the Spartans were 10-of-15 on third down, which prevented the Bronco defense from getting a needed break in the first half. It could’ve been a different game had Cook not been able to keep so many drives alive.
Key play: Western Michigan missed 41-yard field goal
I know what you’re thinking. How could a first-quarter field goal attempt be the key play of the game? Well, after Western Michigan’s 72-yard return to open the game, the Broncos needed points. Badly. Short fields against a top-five team are few and far between. That stop gave the Spartan defense all the confidence it needed. Western Michigan blew the few prime chances it was given — those two deep ball drops were costly — and to end that first drive without points prevented its one chance to play from ahead. That could’ve set a different tone to the night, but the Broncos spent the night digging out of an early hole.
-Madre London, L.J. Scott were impressive
Any worries about Michigan State’s inexperienced running backs might’ve been squashed on Friday. Madre London scored his first career touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the game and L.J. Scott showed why impressed Mark Dantonio so much in camp. They were the two leading rushers for a Sparty attack that fell just short of 200 yards on the ground. They rotated by series, which is something we could see much more of throughout 2015.
Riley Bullough was a monster in the backfield. His three sacks helped the Spartans give Zach Terrell some early unrest. Malik McDowell and Shilique Calhoun also got into the sack column. Right now, the Spartans look a little to reliant on the sack to generate a pass rush. Once the front four got tired in the fourth quarter, the passing game opened up for the Broncos.
-Coverage team digs early hole
Michigan State was not in midseason form in the return game. Returns of 72 and 100 yards kicked off Western Michigan’s day with a bang. The Spartans have a lot of new faces on the special teams unit, and they were gashed early and often. That will be a major point of emphasis as they prepare for some dynamic Oregon athletes.
What it means: Michigan State is an elite team…with weaknesses
Western Michigan was not a Big Ten opponent. But on the road, after a couple of electric special teams plays, a lesser team would’ve been a little shell shocked. Instead, the Spartans went to work. As long as that offensive line stays healthy, Cook and the Sparty playmakers will get time and space to operate. Defensively, they held Jarvion Franklin and the productive WMU ground game to less than a hard per carry. Still, once Zach Terrell got time to throw, MSU’s inexperienced defensive backs were exposed. The Spartans’ biggest question mark coming into the season was in the secondary, weird as it sounds. Against Western Michigan, it didn’t lose them the game. Against Oregon, it will.
What’s next: vs. No. 7 Oregon
There was Oregon game-planning being done in the middle of Friday night’s win. Mark Dantonio wanted to show as many looks as possible. Three different running backs toted the rock at least nine times. Dantonio even brought backup quarterback Damion Terry to run the wildcat a few different times. The Spartans ran a little zone-read with Cook, too. Oregon will have plenty of homework to cram for the No. 5 team in the country. But with the way Michigan State defended the pass in the second half, it will, too.