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Get To Know The Opponent: Western Michigan

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After what always feels like an eternity, game week returns to East Lansing, as we can now dissect Michigan State’s first opponent of the 2022 college football season.

School: Western Michigan University

Nickname: Broncos

Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Head Coach: Tim Lester (sixth season, 32-25 record)

Series history: MSU 14 – WMU 2. The Spartans have won 12 in a row, a streak that began in 1921, including the most recent meeting in 2019, outpacing the Broncos 51-17.

Coming off an 11-win season and a ninth-place finish in the polls, the Spartans look to retain momentum entering head coach Mel Tucker’s third season. As for Western Michigan, the Broncos will look to continue some recent success as well. Head coach Tim Lester posts a 32-25 record over six seasons in Kalamazoo, including four consecutive winning seasons, since taking over for now Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck.

In an interesting subplot, the Spartans’ redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne is preparing to face his father, Jeff Thorne, who takes over as WMU’s offensive coordinator. He inherits an offense that produced a 12th-place finish nationally in yards per game last year (466.4), in large part due to the FBS’ 17th-ranked rush attack (212.8 per game).

Players to Watch

Evidently, neither MSU nor WMU is confiding its depth chart before Friday night’s opener, but it seems that a key offensive piece for the Broncos will miss the contest. Lester confirmed Tuesday that senior tight end Austin Hence’s injury will sideline the veteran for several weeks. This comes on the heels of Hence’s transfer from Mercyhurst University as a graduate transfer in 2021, a season he missed with a shoulder injury.

Lester noted a three-man committee of redshirt freshman Blake Bosma, graduate transfer Joshua Burgett and sophomore Mitch Bartol will attempt to fill the void at tight end.

Former Michigan State running back and Mark Dantonio recruit La’Darius Jefferson returns as a fifth-year senior for Western Michigan after leading the Broncos in rush attempts (185) and touchdowns (10) and finishing second in rushing yards (836) last season. He averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry as he continued his role in goal-line situations since his departure from East Lansing.

Redshirt junior Sean Tyler enters a redshirt junior campaign looking to repeat as WMU’s rushing leader after a 1,150-yard season on fewer attempts (178) than Jefferson. He is on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list.

At receiver, redshirt junior Corey Crooms attempts to take over as WMU’s primary receiver following Skyy Moore’s second-round departure to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.


Western Michigan’s offensive strength is its rushing attack and the apparent lack thereof with pass-catching holes to fill bodes well for MSU’s defensive scheme that featured soft coverages, and ranked last in the FBS last season, allowing 325 yards per game.