Michigan State football has their first Power 5 opponent on the docket this weekend in Seattle, as the Spartans are set to do battle with Pac-12 foe, Washington.
This is the first true test for either team, as they have played a combined three of four games against MAC teams. Revisionist history does not favor Michigan State, but they look to change that on Saturday night.
Let’s take a look at what the Huskies will bring to the table in this matchup:
Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer is in his first season with the Huskies, but he has a familiar background. He was the offensive coordinator at Indiana in 2019 before taking a head coach position at Fresno State.
Much of the Huskies staff has developed with him. Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb and co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell have been with him at multiple stops including Fresno State, Indiana, and Eastern Michigan. Additionally, the other half of the Huskies defensive coordinator tandem, William Inge, has been with DeBoer since he was at Indiana.
Another person Michigan State and DeBeor are familiar with is Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr. He played under DeBoer at Indiana and played against MSU three times, going 1-2.
Penix Jr. has been a standout player so far this season across the country. He’s thrown for 682 passing yards, has a 6-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and is completing nearly 70 percent of his throws. Although he’s had many injuries in the past, he still proves to be mobile and hasn’t been sacked yet this season.
Washington’s biggest offensive threat comes from the outside. Sophomore wide receiver Jalen McMillan has been Penix Jr.’s go-to target early in 2022 with over 200 yards receiving and three touchdowns. The Spartans will need to be aware of where McMillan is at all times.
Additionally, junior WR Giles Jackson, a transfer from Michigan, is the Huskies’ second leading receiver and may have some extra motivation for this game due to his time with the Wolverines.
Washington’s run game has been sound so far as well, led by senior tailback Wayne Taulapapa. He averaging 6.6 yards per carry on 23 touches to start the season.
The Huskies offense has been rejuvenated this year after having struggled the past couple years. They have always been physical up front with the offensive line and had athletes on the outside. Penix Jr. seems to be the piece they needed to put it all together.
One thing that held constant through Washington’s struggles in recent years was its defense. The Huskies are fast and physical, and had the best pass defense in the country in 2022 despite a 4-8 record.
There is a lot of turnover on the back end of that defense, with two defensive backs having been drafted to the NFL as well as players graduating and a new coaching staff. That said, Washington has experience from its young players on that side of the football.
Sophomore edge rusher Bralen Trice has been a problem up front so far. With 2.5 sacks and eight total tackles through two games, he has been a dominant force and will look to pressure MSU quarterback Payton Thorne throughout the game. Sophomore linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala has had the most action this season, leading the team in tackles with 12.
The pressure provided up front has helped the UW’s pass defense, as the Huskies have three interceptions so far this year. Washington has allowed less than 500 yards of total offense this season, which is better than Michigan State’s defense so far.
- MSU pass offense vs Washington pass defense
It depends on which Payton Thorne will play on Saturday. Will it be the one from the Akron game that will struggle to find a rhythm? Or will it be the one we know from last year that minimizes mistakes? Which Thorne the Spartans get will determine who wins this matchup.
- MSU rush offense vs Washington rush defense
Again this matchup could go both ways, but for now I’d give the edge to Michigan State. Jalen Berger has proven he can run between the tackles and be physical. He can put this on full display on Saturday night in Seattle.
- Washington pass offense vs MSU pass defense
Washington has the edge here. The Spartans’ defensive backfield has continued to struggle and against an air raid could be exploited even more so. Safety Xavier Henderson being out will hurt even more this week for that reason. If Michigan State’s secondary can force a turnover, that would help balance the scales.
- Washington rush offense vs MSU rush defense
Michigan State has the edge here. The Spartans defensive front has continued its success from last season. I think Washington knows that too, and will only use the run game in an attempt to keep MSU honest on defense.
What looked like a comfortable Michigan State win for much of the offseason has now turned into what appears to be competitive matchup between the Spartans and Huskies. With the effect of the transfer portal, rebuilding a program can be sped up drastically. We saw that last year with Michigan State, and Washington is showing signs of it as well. To what extent the Huskies rebuild has been completed we’ll find out this weekend.