No. 19 Spartans have room for improvement against WMU
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By NOAH TRISTER
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Mark Dantonio made it clear this week that No. 19 Michigan State needs to approach this next game with a sense of urgency.
"I think our guys will have motivation this week," the Spartans' coach said. "What do you think?"
Dantonio could smile as he said that on Tuesday, because he'd spent much of his news conference voicing his dissatisfaction with last week's season-opening performance against Tulsa. The Spartans won that game 28-7, but they didn't exactly take full advantage of their opportunities. Dantonio wants to see improvement when Michigan State hosts Western Michigan on Saturday night.
The Spartans (1-0) lived up to expectations on defense in their opener, holding Tulsa to minus-73 yards rushing. That was the lowest total for an FBS team since Mississippi State held Florida to minus-78 in 2000. Michigan State also blocked a punt and forced three turnovers, so the final score could have been a lot more lopsided.
It was the offense that held the Spartans back last season, so it's understandable that Dantonio is running low on patience with that group. But Michigan State still won the game comfortably, which is an indication of how dominant the defense can be.
"They present a lot of problems, and everyone's trying to solve them," WMU coach Tim Lester said. "It'll be a great challenge."
WMU (1-0) beat Monmouth 48-13 in its opening game. The Broncos play Michigan State regularly, and they've been reasonably competitive recently, losing by 13 in 2013 and 2015 and by 14 in 2017. The school's last win in the series, however, was in 1919.
It's not unusual for the Spartans to win ugly early in the season, and Dantonio did make sure to acknowledge the stout defensive showing. He'll hope for a more complete performance this weekend.
"We're 1-0. There are a lot of people out there that are 0-1," Dantonio said. "A lot of people wish they could have played poorly a little bit and still won. That's the message, as well. We won the football game, and we won the football game decidedly, I felt. But you're chasing perfection, and you're always trying to get better."
More things to watch when the Spartans host the Broncos:
Dantonio needs one win to tie Duffy Daugherty's school record of 109. He can also tie Daugherty for 13th on the Big Ten's career list.
Keith Mixon had kickoff returns of 52, 26 and 65 yards for WMU in its opener. The Broncos may need plays like that on special teams if they're going to pull off the upset.
WMU had eight penalties for 74 yards against Monmouth. Michigan State was even worse, committing 14 for 122 yards against Tulsa.
"We've obviously got to be much more productive this week," said Brad Salem, who was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Spartans in the offseason. "Growth has to occur every week in the game of football."
One big bright spot for Michigan State last week was the play of Kenny Willekes, who was back after breaking his leg in the Redbox Bowl last season. Willekes recovered two fumbles, including one for a touchdown.
"It's really hard to point to anybody on defense who did not play well," Dantonio said. "They all graded at winning level."
WMU quarterback Jon Wassink matched his career high with five touchdown passes in the opener. This next game will obviously be a tougher test.
Wassink threw for only 79 yards when he faced Michigan State two years ago. The Broncos did not score an offensive touchdown in that game.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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Updated September 6, 2019