It’s been almost 100 years since Western Michigan beat Michigan State, but considering what the Broncos have accomplished recently, a trip to East Lansing hardly seems like a big deal.
After Western Michigan had its best season in school history in 2016, going a perfect 13-0 before coming up short against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, the Broncos opened this season on the road against No. 4 Southern Cal. And if not for a few turnovers and a couple tough breaks, Western Michigan might have pulled off the upset of the season; the Trojans prevailed, 49-31.
Two big games in two big environments has the Broncos ready for whatever comes this week at Spartan Stadium.
“I think it’s critical,” first-year coach Tim Lester said Monday of opening at the L.A. Coliseum. “The biggest thing when going on the road is making sure guys can focus on the job at hand and not letting the atmosphere get in the way of their execution, and it’s happened time and time again. You see it all over the country. People asked me last week at the Coliseum and I told them fortunately a lot of our players are coming off a BCS bowl game in the Jerry Jones dome (AT&T Stadium) and I didn’t think the Coliseum was going to get them. They showed up and were focused and made it about football and not about the environment.
“With what we were able to with our last game last year and our first game this year, I definitely think they will be prepared to handle an environment that is a big stage, a Big Ten environment, and they can focus and worry about how they play on the field.”
The Broncos were clearly focused against the Trojans and showed they’re not about to fall into obscurity. They lost coach P.J. Fleck to Minnesota and are replacing wide receiver Corey Davis, the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft, and quarterback Zach Terrell, who left WMU as the career passing leader.
However, there are still plenty of playmakers on the roster. The offensive line stood toe-to-toe with the Trojans and led a running attack that gained 263 yards.
“Our guys came to play," said tailback Jamauri Bogan, who had 77 yards and a touchdown. “We knew that we would show up. We knew that the country would expect us to fold. I really feel like we laid it on the line, and we're ready for next week.”
The key for the Broncos, Lester said, is building off the first week and doing enough to finally get over the hump against a team WMU has had some close calls against.
In the 2015 opener in Kalamazoo, the Broncos hung with a Spartans team that ended the season in the College Football Playoff before losing, 37-24. In 2013 at Spartan Stadium, MSU struggled but got by with a 26-13 win.
“Every coach says it and it’s a cliché, but it is the truth – this is the biggest week of improvement for both teams,” Lester said. “You go out there and now you know what you have, you see the mistakes and correct them.
“It’s still early on with our guys running our system, and as it becomes more comfortable running our system you start focusing more and more on the opponent. Right now we’re more focusing on us and making sure we’re doing the right things. If we do I think we can be in every game we play as long as we do our job well, and that’s really how we’ll dial in for this week.”
Michigan State vs. Western Michigan
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV / radio: Big Ten Network / WJR 760
Records: MSU 1-0, WMU 0-1