EAST LANSING, Mich. – Payton Thorne played well in spurts, allowing No. 15 Michigan State to earn a lopsided win over Western Michigan despite struggling for long stretches of the opener on both sides of the ball.
Thorne capped three straight drives with touchdown passes in the first half and threw for a fourth score in the final quarter to help the Spartans pull away and beat the Broncos 35-13 on Friday night.
“We got a lot of work to do," Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “But I like what I saw in the locker room after the game. We’re a hungry football team and we know we need to get better."
After taking a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter, the Spartans allowed an average Mid-American Conference team to pull within eight points late in the third after outscoring them 10-0 in the quarter.
“We didn’t play very well in the third quarter," Thorne said. “I don’t know the official stats. It was pretty bad."
Michigan State was fortunate Thorne's uneven performance included four touchdowns, matching Connor Cook's school record of throwing four touchdowns in four games. Thorne finished 12 of 24 for 233 yards with an interception.
Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger ran for a career-high 120 yards and a touchdown that gave the Spartans a 28-13 lead with 6:28 remaining. Thorne's fourth touchdown, a 43-yard pass to Tre Mosley, on the next drive ended any doubt about the outcome.
After a slow start, Thorne threw a short pass to freshman Germie Bernard, whose speed turned the play into a 44-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. Illinois transfer Daniel Barker used only his right hand to catch a 13-yard pass for a score and Keon Coleman ran under a 41-yard pass to put Michigan State ahead 21-3 early in the second quarter.
Western Michigan pulled within 11 points midway through the third quarter, when it converted a fourth-and-1 at its 42 and Sean Tyler ran for a 4-yard touchdown a snap after picking up 45 yards on the ground.
The Broncos made it 21-13 late in the third when Palmer Domschke made a 42-yard kick, but they couldn't make enough plays on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter and fell to 1-30 against ranked teams.
“I told the team I thought they fought hard,” Western Michigan coach Tim Lester said. “We didn’t get the job done. Our No. 1 thing coming into the game was to take care of the ball and I don’t think we did a good enough job of that. We’ve got to be better to beat a good team like that.”
Michigan State’s defense took a hit in the first half, losing linebacker Darius Snow and safety Xavier Henderson after both appeared to have injured their right legs that were wrapped in protective braces. Tucker said he did not have an update on the condition of either player.
UNLV transfer Jacoby Windmon had four of Michigan State's seven sacks.
“We identified him in camp and in the spring as one of our best pass rushers, maybe our best," Tucker said. “Pass rushers are hard to find."
Western Michigan: Redshirt freshman Jack Salopek had an encouraging first start, completing 21 of 36 passes for 193 yards and running for 61 yards on a draw.
Michigan State: If Snow and Henderson are injured significantly, that will hurt the team's chances to improve a defense that ranked last against the pass in FBS in 2021.
The Spartans likely will slip a little in the poll after a lackluster performance in a game that seemed to be closer than the final score.
Western Michigan: Plays at Ball State on Sept. 10 and hosts No. 17 Pittsburgh the following week.
Michigan State: Hosts Akron on Sept. 10 and goes on the road to play Washington in a night game on Sept. 17.
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