Western Michigan third-year coach Tim Lester was thrilled to have Jon Wassink back at quarterback Saturday night in the Broncos’ season-opening 48-13 win over FCS Monmouth at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.
Wassink missed the final four games last season due a foot injury.
But now Wassink is healthy and he likely will need to play at a high level for the Broncos to stay competitive with Michigan State on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., BTN). Western (1-0) is a 17.5-point underdog to MSU (1-0).
Wassink, a senior from Grand Rapids, completed 20-of-25 passes, throwing for 368 yards and five TDs against Monmouth, including a pair of TD tosses to All-MAC tight end Giovanni Ricci and a 33-yard score to 6-foot-4 Jaylen Hall (Macomb Dakota).
“He had a great day, super efficient and threw the ball really well down the field,” said Lester of Wassink. “We only threw it 25 times. They really were committed to the run. They kind of challenged us to throw it, and Jon was definitely up to the task. He was efficient with the ball. He took one sack, so there’s still something he can work on, but he looked like the guy that we need to win games.”
Monmouth loaded the box to try and slow down WMU senior 1,000-yard back LeVante Bellamy, who has 4.28 40 speed. Bellamy, who was limited to 53 yards on 18 carries, will try to impress NFL scouts when he goes up against one of the nation’s top defenses in the Spartans.
When asked what he expected with Tulsa’s running game going negative-73 yards against the Spartans, Lester replied: “Negative-73, yes I’m well aware of that. It will be a heck of a challenge. When you get to play a defense, top five in the country, nothing comes easy. You have to earn every yard you get. You have to get rid of the ball quick. You have to make decisions, you can’t hold the ball. The Tulsa quarterback held it a little bit and paid the price.”
MSU limited Tulsa to just 80 total yards of offense in the 28-7 victory.
“It’s great to have a senior quarterback (Wassink). I really like our offensive line, but they’re going to need to be great to slow down all those D-linemen,” Lester said. “It’s a great challenge and we’re excited about it. We know it will be tough, but these are the kind of games you love to get up for.”
Lester liked how the Broncos ran the ball in the second half.
“They definitely had one more than we had every time,” said Lester of Monmouth’s defense, playing to stop the run. “We still need to be able to run when they’re plus-one, at least more efficient. We made some adjustments at halftime that helped our run game. We knew they put themselves in a major disadvantage in the pass game in doing what they were doing, and Jon was able to take advantage of that.
“I was happy with the improvement from first half to second half, but to run it against this (MSU) crew is not easy. I know our offensive line is going to be up for it, and I know Bellamy will be ready to go.”
WMU has a special teams weapon in Keith Mixon Jr. who transferred in from Mississippi State last month. He had 143 yards in kickoff returns Saturday, including one for 65 yards.
Lester will also make sure senior D’Wayne Eskridge gets his touches on offense, but Eskridge is expected to make more of an impact defensively, where he made his first career start at cornerback.
Eskridge, who has 4.33 speed, had eight receptions for 240 yards and two TDs in last year’s season-opening loss to Syracuse. Lester moved him to cornerback this season.
“He did a good job,” said Lester of Eskridge. “It was his first day and they were a tempo team, so he got to get it all, like taken through a firehose. It was his first time playing corner and they were snapping the ball every five seconds. It was a challenge and he talked about how fast he thought the game was, but he was our leading tackler (eight). I think he had two big hits and had a pass breakup that should have been picked. He had a blast out there, did a good job out into the boundary for us. It was a good debut for him on defense.”
You can bet senior safety Justin Tranquill will be excited to be back on the field at Spartan Stadium after suffering a season-ending knee injury against MSU early in the 2017 season.
Tranquill, was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and had offers from Cincinnati, Indiana and Illinois.
WMU’s secondary will have to be sharp going against Brian Lewerke.
“I had a chance to go up to a camp up at their place a year and a half ago, had a chance to watch him play a little bit and he has a rocket for an arm and seems to be under control with what he’s doing,” said Lester of Lewerke. “That was their major ailment last year (Lewerke’s injury). I’m sure they’re happy to have him back, to have a guy that played, that has an arm, knows what he’s doing and doesn’t get frazzled in the pocket. I think he’s a really good player, and as they get adjusted to what they’re doing I think he’ll get better and better.”
Michigan State vs. Western Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV/radio: BTN/760 AM
Records: Both teams 1-0
Line: Michigan State by 17.5