For the third straight year, the Michigan State Spartans open their season under the lights at Spartan Stadium. This time, they welcome their in-state rival, the Western Michigan Broncos to the show. Coming off a tough 2012 season with a solid finish, the Spartans want to kick off 2013 on a good note.
The Broncos and their new coach P.J. Fleck will be excited to try and make an opening statement of their own for their new regime. What Western Michigan lacks in talent they can easily make up for with motivation, making this contest interesting right off the bat.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Ground and pound.
In the absence of new Pittsburgh Steeler Le’Veon Bell, the Spartans need to find someone to run the football to set up the rest of the offense. Smallish Jeremy Langford will get the first shot, but brusing Riley Bullough will be waiting if he struggles, and freshman Gerald Holmes might see time as well. Michigan State’s response to losing Bell, who seemingly represented almost 75 percent of their offense last season, will go a long way towards telling how well the team does this year. The Spartans need to answer this question immediately and get a good effort on the ground to set Andrew Maxwell up for success in the passing game.
Western Michigan’s Key To Victory: Avoid turnovers by moving the ball methodically.
The Broncos don’t have an easy task taking on Michigan State’s defense on the road. Consequently, they cannot run at the Spartans, but they must play smart, methodical football and move the ball slowly with short gains. Tyler Van Tubbergen should take check downs and sideline routes, mixing in runs with Antoin Scriven when possible. Western Michigan cannot try to gain big chunks of yardage because sacks and turnovers will befall them. Instead, they must play slower and take what Michigan State gives. At the end of the night, if the Broncos have success with this approach, the result could be much closer than many think.
Michigan State Player To Watch: Aaron Burbridge.
Certainly, Michigan State needs a big performance from Maxwell, Langford and several others on offense, but just as key will be the performance of the wide receivers. Players like DeAnthony Arnett, Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett and company have to improve their hands and focus. Burbridge is arguably the player in the group with the most to gain, and if he plays well, Western Michigan simply won’t be able to keep up with the Spartans’ offense. Burbridge could be the next big thing Michigan State features at wide receiver, and the next step in his on-field development continues tonight.
Intangibles: Stadium atmosphere and attitude
Michigan State’s charged-up, nighttime feel should help them get some early momentum against Western Michigan. What could hurt is any angst over Maxwell’s performance. If Maxwell struggles at all, the crowd might formulate a frustrated “here we go again” type attitude, which could benefit the Broncos. As Mark Dantonio said, everyone has to be behind Maxwell, providing him and his teammates with the best chance to have success. An intimidating environment is needed most, which means all Spartans must stand together and support their own no matter what goes on.
Prediction: Michigan State won’t get a huge test from Western Michigan, who is in the midst of change and could be one of the worst teams in the MAC this season. The Spartans will win this game fairly easily, behind a tough defense and just enough offense to get the job done. Maxwell and company play well and Michigan State starts out the season on a positive note. Michigan State 28, Western Michigan 10
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax