Western Michigan defensive end Ali Fayad has been looking forward to facing Michigan State since the Broncos played the Spartans in East Lansing in Week 2 of his freshman year, falling 28-14 in 2017.
Fayad, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior from Dearborn, is now a leader on an experienced line and confident the Broncos can slow down MSU’s offense to give them a chance at an upset on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.
Fayad led the Broncos with 12 tackles for loss last year, including 7.5 sacks, and he entered this season as a preseason first-team All-MAC selection.
Fayad was tossed into the fire as a true freshman, getting in on a tackle in the 2017 season opener, a 49-31 loss at then-No. 4 USC, followed by that loss to the Spartans the following week.
“Coming in here freshman year, we weren’t as deep as we are now, so I got to play right away and did the best I could as a freshman,” Fayad said. “I got better going into my sophomore year and now I’m feeling like I’m playing the best football in my life.
“I want to get 10-plus sacks, and honestly I just want our defense to be tops in the country. I think our defense is really good this year. We changed defensive coordinators, now have Coach (Lou) Esposito, and we have a lot more energy, guys really running to the ball, guys really wanting to play for him. We have the right guys in the system, and we’re getting to the ball, getting pressure.”
Fayad and his frontline teammates, including tackle Ralph Holley (Orcahrd Lake St. Mary’s) and end Antonio Balabani (Macomb Dakota) will be playing with a chip on their shoulders since they were passed over by Big Ten programs like MSU.
“For me, it’s more like they overlooked me, so now I’ve got to show them because they did recruit a guy (offensive tackle Mustafa Khaleefah) out of my school,” said Fayad. “Now, I get the chance to play them a second time, and this time around I’ll get a lot more PT (playing time) against them so I’ll show them what’s up.
“I can’t wait to play them. When we played them the last time, it was just my second game in college football. I’m way more experienced. I know what I’m doing now.”
In fact, Fayad was passed over by the Broncos until Tim Lester took over as head coach, replacing P.J. Fleck, who moved on to Minnesota.
“We have great talent, great depth, which will make a difference, allow us to get to the quarterback,” Fayad said. “We have Ralph (Holley) at the three, (Antonio) Balabani at the boundary, then at nose we’ve got (Will) McCabe. Really, we’ve got a lot of depth up front too – Dre Carter (Detroit Cass Tech), Tim Collins, who is a beast, and KG (Kailien Guillory).”
WMU’s linebackers include seniors Drake Spears, Alex Grace, Najee Clayton, junior Treshaun Hayward (Ann Arbor Skyline) and sophomores Corvin Moment and Zaire Barnes.
The Broncos also have an experienced secondary that includes senior safeties Justin Tranquill and Stefan Claiborne (Chippewa Valley), along with junior safety A.J. Thomas (U-D Jesuit) and senior cornerbacks Anton Curtis (Detroit East English) and D’Wayne Eskridge.
Lester moved Eskridge from receiver. Eskridge had 38 receptions for 776 yards and three TDs last season. He had a team-leading eight tackles in the season-opening 48-13 win over Monmouth Saturday, six in the second quarter.
With Jayden Reed transferring to MSU after grabbing 56 passes for 797 yards and eight TDs last season for the Broncos, many would think Lester would want to keep Eskridge on offense, but NFL scouts feel cornerback is Eskridge’s future. And, Lester feels strongly in redshirt freshman receiver DaShon Bussell, who had 116 receiving yards in the opener.
“D’s an animal, he’s ferocious, he swarms the ball and hits,” said Fayad of Eskridge. “I don’t know how he was a receiver in the first place, because he’s such a defensive-minded guy. He’s a physical specimen. You’re going to feel him. He’s really going to help us back there.”
Said Lester: “When the scouts give you a nickname – they call him ‘The Werewolf,’ and I don’t know what that means – but D wants to knock you out. They (NFL scouts) feel like he can play at the next level. They love D’s speed (4.38). I mean I run the offense, didn’t want to lose him, but if he can play in the NFL … He’s looked great back there, and we’re excited for him.”
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