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Michigan State shakes off early season jitters to defeat Western Michigan 35-13

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The No. 15/14 Michigan State Spartans had some rust to shake off at times in the season opener Friday night against the intrastate foe Western Michigan Broncos. However, MSU took care of business in the end to ensure a “Victory for MSU” in a 35-13 win.

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne was a bit out of sorts in the first half, often overthrowing his target. However, he ended the night 12-of-24 for 233 yards and four touchdowns to just one interception. That marks the fourth game of Thorne’s career of at least four touchdown passes in a game, and ties him with Connor Cook for the Michigan State record.

Despite being “prep school teammates” with Jayden Reed, Thorne spread the ball around to Keon Coleman, Tre Mosley, Germie Bernard, and Daniel Barker for a touchdown catch apiece. Coleman led receivers with four catches for 84 yards, though Bernard made his one catch of the night count most with the team’s long of 44 yards.

Jalen Berger also got his first rushing touchdown as a Spartan, while leading MSU rushers on the night with 120 yards on 16 attempts for an average of 7.5 yards per carry. However, his stats were perhaps skewed a bit by one 50-yard run. Jarek Broussard’s debut for Michigan State saw him add 54 yards on the ground on 10 attempts as well.

On the defensive side, linebacker Ben VanSumeren and defensive back Angelo Grose led the team in total tackles with 11 each. VanSumeren also notched two solo and one for loss, while Grose had four solo and 0.5 tackles for loss. Transfer linebacker Jacoby Windmon also made a big debut in Green and White, leading the team with four sacks. Windmon and Kendell Brooks each had a forced fumble as well.

Michigan State had a rough start on offense. Back-to-back three-and-outs started the season on the offensive side of the ball. However, on the opening failed drive, Spartans fans could take comfort in watching Bryce Baringer make a booming 67-yard punt to flip field position. Western Michigan took over on its own 4-yard-line, and a strong opening defensive effort by MSU forced a quick punt by the Broncos as well.

Unfortunately, the second drive by WMU marched 66 yards down the field in 10 plays over 4:57 to get on the board first with a field goal.

Michigan State quickly responded with a a six play, 75-yard drive of its own after a touchback on Western Michigan’s kickoff. A 14-yard run by Berger kicked off the drive and capped off by a 44-yard catch for the touchdown by Bernard, his first in a Spartan uniform. Jack Stone’s extra point attempt was good and it was 7-3 MSU in the lead.

Michigan State’s defense forced a quick three-and-out by the Broncos after a loss of seven yards, and it was the offense’s time to show it had finally woken up. Yet again, the Spartans’ offense marched down the field, this time on a seven-play, 45-yard drive over 2:21, spilling over into the second quarter. Big plays of 11-yards by Broussard and a final 13-yard touchdown catch by Barker capped the drive. Another point-after-touchdown was added by Stone and it was 14-3 MSU.

The Michigan State defense forced yet another three-and-out and a WMU punt set the Spartans’ offense up on the 50-yard-line. Just two plays later, a nine-yard run by Jalen Berger and then a 41-yard catch by Coleman, and that was that as MSU punched it into the end zone once again. Another Stone PAT made it 21-3 for Michigan State.

From there the scoring stalled out for the remainder of the half. Western Michigan’s next drive was able to march down the field deep into the red zone, but the eight play, 69-yard drive ended with MSU’s Windmon forcing a fumble by WMU quarterback Jack Salopek on third-and-goal. That fumble was recovered by Chester Kimbrough for Michigan State.

After advancing the ball 30 yards on five plays, the drive stalled out for Michigan State and the Spartans were forced to punt. Another forced fumble by the Spartans’ defense, this one forced by Brooks on a run by WMU’s Sean Tyler, gave MSU the ball back again.

After advancing 35 yards to the WMU 26-yard-line, Thorne tried to force it while scrambling on third-and-5, but Western Michigan’s Keni-H Lovely picked him off at WMU’s own 10-yard-line. Just 44 seconds later and it was halftime.

Western received the ball to start the second half, but the Broncos managed just 11 yards on six plays and punted. After gaining 34 yards on offense on four plays, the Spartans turned the ball over when WMU’s Braden Fiske forced a fumble by Berger at the WMU 39-yard-line.

The Broncos marched the ball 67 yards on seven plays for Western’s first touchdown of the game. The big break on the drive game came on WMU’s sixth play when Salopek saw an opening and kept it for a 45-yard scramble. The run almost seemed like he was getting back at MSU for that 2017 61-yard run by Brian Lewerke. One play later, Tyler kept it again for a four-yard gain to punch it in for the touchdown. The PAT was good and it was just 21-10 in MSU’s favor.

Michigan State managed to march the ball 41 yards on the next offensive possession, but stalled out at WMU’s 27-yard-line. A 44-yard field goal attempt by Stone went wide to the left and Western Michigan took over.

The Broncos were able to march it 48 yards on a 10-play drive that ate up 4:40 off the clock to get into field goal range. After stalling out at MSU’s 25-yard-line, a field goal by Western from 42 yards out was good to make it a one-score game at just 21-13 with MSU’s lead.

Both teams were forced to punt on the next respective drive for each, though Michigan State’s possession following the Western Michigan field goal carried over into the start of the fourth quarter. After WMU’s punt, the Spartans’ offense finally woke back up for the final quarter.

An eight-play, 91-yard drive resulted in the first Michigan State score since the 12:26 mark in the second quarter.

Huge gains of 26 yards through the air by Coleman and 50 yards on the ground by Berger punctuated the drive. After Berger’s big gain set up first-and-goal from the WMU 7-yard-line, it took four tries to finally punch it in by the offense. However, Berger got the handoff each time and eventually powered through on fourth-and-1. The PAT by Stone was good and Michigan State stretched the lead out to 28-13.

The scoring wasn’t over yet for Michigan State, but it would be for the Broncos. Western Michigan, seeing its chance to notch an upset over a ranked opponent quickly dwindling, took over after kickoff from its own 25-yard line.

With just 6:22 left on the clock, WMU managed to pick up an immediate first down thanks to a 19-yard pass completion to Jehlani Galloway. However, the Broncos faced a stiff Michigan State defensive effort and turned it over on downs at the WMU 43-yard-line after being unable to convert a fourth-and-11 attempt.

Michigan State made quick work on the next possession, the drive lasting just a single play. Thorne connected with Mosley for a 43-yard touchdown and Stone hit the extra point with just 4:07 left on the clock.

A three-and-out possession resulted in a punt by Western Michigan and MSU ran the remaining 2:33 left off the clock for a 35-13 win.

Michigan State also suffered potentially two big injuries, as safety Xavier Henderson and linebacker Darius Snow left the game and did not return. Henderson was seen with crutches and wearing a brace on his right leg. Snow was spotted in a wheelchair, also sporting a brace.

Michigan State moves to 1-0 on the season and will welcome the Akron Zips to Spartan Stadium next Saturday, Sept. 10. Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, with the game being broadcast on the Big Ten Network.