Wojo, Niyo, Angelique and Matt look back at Week 1 of the college football season, and take a glimpse ahead at Week 2. Detroit News
East Lansing — With a season-opening win under its belt, Michigan State is moving on to the next step — trying to put together its first winning streak in almost a year.
The Spartans haven’t won back-to-back games since beating Notre Dame on Sept. 17 last year to open 2-0. From there, of course, things went downhill with just one more victory the rest of season.
But now, with Western Michigan coming to Spartan Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, the Spartans are trying to build off their 35-10 victory over Bowling Green last week.
“We have to move forward,” Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio said. “Our football team realizes that. That's the first step. Our first step has to be to win the first game, and then our second phase of our whole season is this out-of-conference part of our season.
“So, we are taking things very slowly. We'll be ready to play this football game.”
The Spartans will be getting ready to face a team it knows plenty about, even if things look a little different for the Broncos. Michigan State and Western Michigan played in the season opener in 2015, but there are some significant changes.
Gone are coach P.J. Fleck, record-setting quarterback Zach Terrell and NFL first-round receiver Corey Davis. However, first-year coach Tim Lester still has plenty to work with. It was on display in a season-opening loss at Southern Cal where Western Michigan ran for 263 yards and was tied with the No. 4 team in the country in the fourth quarter.
That alone has the attention of the Spartans, but they also know a lot is left from the Western Michigan team that was unbeaten last season heading into the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin.
“They came off a great season last year, beating two Big Ten teams,” Michigan State senior center Brian Allen said. “In years’ past, they might have doubt coming into an environment like this, but I know all those guys are going to come in here Saturday expecting to win. I’m not saying it wasn’t like that two years ago, but I know more guys on their team believe now, and that’s a thing. So, it’s always tougher to play those teams when everyone believes.”
That meeting two years ago came at Western Michigan when the Broncos pushed a Spartans team that came in ranked No. 5 in the nation. They served notice early they weren’t intimidated as Darius Phillips returned the opening kick 70 yards. He later took one back 100 yards for a touchdown, the same thing he did last week at USC.
The Spartans were stunned by Phillips the last time around, but their awareness is heightened this time around.
“You certainly understand that he's a factor in any football game and so whether it's on a punt or it's on kickoff, we have to work extremely hard to counteract what he's doing,” Dantonio said. “That will be a challenge, and our guys will know what's going on.
“He was a virtual unknown to us on that particular day back in 2015. But you know, we know who he is now, so we'll get ourselves ready.”
That’s the approach the entire team is taking, and not with just Phillips. The Broncos have an experienced offensive line and three running backs that have all been productive. Senior Jarvion Franklin has the most touchdowns (41) in program history, junior Jamauri Bogan has scored 25 touchdowns and sophomore LeVante Bellamy ran for 102 yards last week.
So, there will be not taking Western Michigan lightly, though considering the Spartans are short on experience, not a team will be taken for granted.
“Because we're so young, they know that each week is going to be its own battle,” offensive line coach Mark Staten said. “It's going to be its own monumental challenge. So, because of that, 1-0 will be our message. They all count one, as Coach (George) Perles always said, so this week we have a heightened focus on them. With this group, this group doesn't know what looking ahead means. This is No. 2 for them.”
It’s game No. 2 and the goal will be to get win No. 2. It would be the first winning streak in a year, but it’s not going to come easy.
Of that, the Spartans are certain.
“It’s not looking at this as a second-week-of-the-season game,” Allen said. “This is a team that’s capable of coming in here and beating us. And if we don’t improve on last week and get better from last week, that can happen. So we have to keep getting better from last week and not be satisfied.”