Western’s prolific passing trio to test MSU’s secondary

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
RJ Williamson (26)

The Broncos, winners of eight games last season, have the offense to test any defensive backfield, especially one that has two new starters at cornerback like the Spartans. And with quarterback Zach Terrell throwing to the wide receiver tandem of Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan should give Michigan State a clear indication of what it has in the secondary

“Absolutely the way they throw the ball around,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said Wednesday. “And those two guys (Davis and Braverman) are really good. The quarterback gets the ball to them, so it will be a great challenge.”

Braverman caught a team-high 86 passes last season and scored six touchdowns, while Davis was the game-breaker, grabbing 78 passes for 1,408 yards and 15 touchdowns. Davis’ numbers are second among returning FBS players in the nation.

The beneficiary of the tandem’s production is Terrell. He was sixth in passing efficiency in the nation with a 164.4 rating, throwing for 3,443 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Michigan State will be attempting to contain that passing game with a fairly inexperienced secondary. After fifth-year senior RJ Williamson at one safety, the Spartans are thin.

Sophomore Montae Nicholson started three games last year and appeared in 13, while junior Demetrious Cox, who has played primarily safety, will be making his second career start at corner. He is joined by redshirt freshman Vayante Copeland, who is playing in his first game.

Barnett, however, believes the players are in place.

“I think we have just as good of talent as we’ve always had ... the experience isn’t there as much,” he said. “But we have some good football players, and I keep saying it, but at one time nobody knew who Darqueze Dennard was, Trae Waynes, Kurtis Drummond, Isaiah Lewis ... So we’re in that phase now of guys proving themselves and showing they can get the job done.”

The players are out to prove their coach right.

“I feel like if people want to take a shot at us and test us then I more than welcome people to do that,” Cox said. “We know what we can do. We know the talent we have.”

So, expect the Spartans to go deep into the secondary.

Junior Jermaine Edmondson is like the first guy in for the nickel package, but guys like Arjen Colquhoun and Darian Hicks will be counted on as well, along with a true freshman or two.

Colquhoun has been dealing with a minor injury, and Hicks is coming off mononucleosis, but Barnett said both will play.

“I’m expecting all those guys to play some at corner for us,” Barnett said.

And like they did last year at Oregon, Barnett and his staff are counting on the players to tell them when they need a break against quick-moving Western Michigan.

“If it’s going really fast like that, absolutely we will,” Barnett said. “We’re prepared to do that if that’s the case. That’s why all those guys are prepared to play. We’re looking to play all of those guys regardless of them going fast or not anyway. But if they are doing that, then we will look to do the tap-out system.”

Williamson, Nicholson and Cox have all had their share of experience facing high-powered offenses, including last season against Oregon, Ohio State and Baylor. The big question is Copeland, whose only experience was the spring game.

He benefited from the injury to Colquhoun to move into the starting spot, but Barnett said he might have grabbed that spot anyway.

“He was consistent,” Barnett said of the 6-foot, 195-pound Copeland. “He’s a good tackler, he’s physical. He’s a big corner size-wise. He can run. He’s violent when it comes to being physical on balls thrown against him — with the receivers, what we call hook and swat and get the ball out with violent hands.

“He’s everything that we look for in a corner. A complete corner who can cover, tackle, do everything. So he earned it. And it’s his job and his chance to go out and show what he can do.”

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Michigan State at Western Michigan

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo

TV/radio: ESPNU/WJR

Line: Michigan State by 18-1/2

Series: Michigan State leads 11-2 (Michigan State 26-13, Aug. 30, 2013)

Did you know? This is the first time Michigan State has played at Western Michigan since the series began in 1908.