No. 19 Michigan State seeks improved offense vs. Western Michigan

Field Level Media

September 04, 2019 at 7:34 am.

Michigan State entered the 2019 season determined to prove that its offensive woes from a year ago were a thing of the past.

The 19th-ranked Spartans reshuffled their coaching staff, spent the offseason saying they were making changes and were set to unveil it all in the opener last week against Tulsa. However, after an impressive opening drive, things stalled.

For most of Michigan State’s 28-7 victory, things looked remarkably like they did last season when the Spartans’ offense ranked among the worst in the nation. And as coach Mark Dantonio looked ahead to his week’s matchup with Western Michigan, he wasn’t shying away from what he believed the problem was.

“I can say this. Football is a game of effort, toughness and knowing what to do,” Dantonio said. “Half of our team figured that out, half of it didn’t. We will make sure that other half gets it figured out this week.

“That’s my message to our football team.”

Michigan State (1-0) gained only 303 total yards against Tulsa and ran for 108 yards on 40 carries. The Spartans produced a paltry 2.7 yards per carry, and it didn’t help that not much was happening in the passing game, as well.

“I was disappointed in the effort when I see guys running routes that are not at full speed,” Dantonio said. “I see guys blocking at the point of attack, throwing a shoulder, not addressing a defender. Can’t happen. We’ve predicated ourselves on being tough here any way you cut it.

“That message is going to get sent, whether it’s public or not. I’m sure nobody appreciates us running the ball for 67 yards (by running backs), especially the guy in charge. We’ll fix that.”

Where Michigan State did excel was where it always does — on defense. The Spartans held the Golden Hurricane to a program-record minus-73 yards rushing, a number exaggerated by a pair of bad snaps that lost 40 yards.

However, Tulsa’s running backs combined for minus-1 yard rushing as Michigan State’s defense also forced three turnovers and added a touchdown when fifth-year senior Kenny Willekes recovered a fumble in the end zone.

It’s that defense that has the attention of Western Michigan (1-0), which rolled over Monmouth 48-13 to open the season.

Senior Jon Wassink was back at quarterback after missing the final four games last season. He threw for 368 yards and five touchdowns.

“He had a great day, super efficient and threw the ball really well down the field,” Western Michigan coach Tim Lester said. “We only threw it 25 times. They really were committed to the run.

“They kind of challenged us to throw it, and Jon was definitely up to the task. He was efficient with the ball. He took one sack, so there’s still something he can work on, but he looked like the guy that we need to win games.”

Similarly, Michigan State likely will focus on slowing down Western Michigan senior running back LeVante Bellamy. The Spartans might not shut him down as they did the Hurricane, but they led the nation in rush defense in 2018, so the Broncos know what they’re up against.

“It will be a heck of a challenge,” Lester said. “When you get to play a defense, top five in the country, nothing comes easy. You have to earn every yard you get. You have to get rid of the ball quick. You have to make decisions, you can’t hold the ball. The Tulsa quarterback held it a little bit and paid the price.”