Michigan State vs. Western Michigan: View from the other side

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Western's Darius Phillips had a 100-yard return against Michigan State in 2015.


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium

TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760

Line: MSU by 7

View from the other side

Andy Pepper, sports director at WWMT in Kalamazoo, breaks down the Broncos for The Detroit News answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Western Michigan game. You can follow him on Twitter @APepperWWMT

1. WMU has proven time and again that the big stage is no big deal. Can the Broncos finally get that win over Michigan State after two close calls in 2013 and ’15?

Based solely on how well they played against USC? Absolutely! The Broncos gashed the Trojans on the ground (rushing for over 260 yards) put some pressure on Sam Darnold (2 sacks) and also picked him off twice. LB Asantay Brown is a beast. He can fly from side to side. They also made plays on special teams. Western just needs to get more out of the passing game.

Detroit News predictions: Michigan State vs. Western Michigan

2. How has Tim Lester put his stamp on this program?

Lester is an immensely likable guy. He talks to the players constantly about only worrying about the things they can control. He’s not trying to be P.J. Fleck, he’s just trying to be Tim Lester. And people love him for how genuine he is. It’s early, but I’ve only heard great things from the guys about Lester. I think the lack of gimmicks is incredibly refreshing for the players after four years of Fleck. They seemed really loose in California.

3. How much of a jump can QB Jon Wassink make after throwing for just 67 yards in his first start?

The plan was to keep Wassink on a tight leash against USC, and Western was able to do that thanks to how well they rushed the ball. Wassink is a gifted passer. I had someone inside the program tell me he throws it better than Zach Terrell, who broke just about every passing record in school history over the last four years. I believe he will show slow and steady improvement throughout the season. I do think Western’s receivers are a bit on the smaller side though. They’re not gonna win a ton of contested balls, something that stood out against the Trojans. They can scoot though. Dee Eskridge may be the fastest player in Saturday’s game.

MSU seeks to go on streak, Western imposes road block

4. Can the Broncos ride the running game against an MSU team that allowed only 67 yards on the ground last week?

That is the million-dollar question. They run the ball that effectively again — and make a couple plays on special teams — and an upset is a definite possibility. They can really eat clock with that offensive line. The Spartans may be in trouble if they have to play from behind.

5. Darius Phillips had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week and two years ago against MSU. Will he strike again?

Darius Phillips is a playmaker, with four career kickoff returns for scores. Phillips was named MAC Special Teams Player of the year last season, and First Team All-MAC defense at CB. Phillips also returned three INT’s for scores last year, and one punt return. He is gonna play on Sundays.

Broncos to watch 

Jarvion Franklin, RB: We picked the fifth-year senior who is WMU’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 41, but truly the Broncos’ running attack is a three-person operation. In the season opener against Southern Cal, sophomore LeVante Bellamy gained 102 yards on nine carries while junior Jamauri Bogan had 77 yards on 15 carries with 4-yard touchdown run.

Asantay Brown, LB: The senior has been a tackling machine for the Broncos, collecting 103 stops in 2015 and 95 last season, including 8.5 tackles for loss. He was active once again the opener against Southern Cal with seven tackles, including a sack and tipping a pass that led to an interception for the Broncos.

Darius Phillips, CB: The senior has burned the Spartans before, returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in 2015, something he did again last week against Southern Cal. In 2016, Phillips returned three interceptions for touchdowns while also returning a kickoff and a punt for a score, becoming the first player in WMU history to score five non-offensive touchdowns in a season.

Facts and figures

■ A little history: This is the 15th meeting between Michigan State and Western Michigan with the Spartans leading the series, 12-2. The last Broncos victory came in 1919, but the last few meetings have been competitive. The Spartans edged the Broncos, 26-13, in 2013 in the last meeting in East Lansing while winning the only meeting in Kalamazoo, 37-24, in 2015.

■ Fresh faces: Michigan State had 18 true freshmen and redshirt freshmen (9 redshirts, 9 true freshmen) make their debut in the season-opening win over Bowling Green with nine players making their first career starts, including true freshman cornerback Josiah Scott.

■ Tough starts: Western Michigan is coming off a 49-31 loss to No. 4 USC, the second time in the last three seasons it opened against a top-five team. The Broncos hosted No. 5 Michigan State to open the 2015 season, the same year they also faced No. 1 Ohio State in non-conference action.