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Three Keys To Michigan State Beating Washington

The Spartans face their first road test of 2022...

The warm-up games have come and gone. The 2022 college football season begins in earnest this week for Michigan State (2-0), as the Spartans travel to the West Coast to battle Washington (2-0).

MSU handled business against Mid-American Conference foes Western Michigan and Akron, but now face a 'Power Five' program for the first time all season.

Head coach Mel Tucker asks his team to raise the intensity each day and each week, and that's what the Spartans will need to do as they play in a hostile environment for the first time all season.

Without further ado, here are three keys to Michigan State beating Washington and moving to 3-0:

1.) Contain Husky QB Michael Penix Jr.

Washington is an unfamiliar opponent for Michigan State, but the Huskies will have a familiar face at quarterback in Week 3 — Michael Penix Jr.

Penix Jr. began his college career at Indiana, and went 1-1 against the Spartans as the Hoosiers starting quarterback. In 2019, a 41-30 win for MSU, Penix Jr. completed 20 consecutive passes — two shy of a Big Ten record — on his way to a 33-of-42 passing performance that included 286 yards and three touchdowns.

In 2020, a 24-0 win for Indiana, Penix Jr. threw for 320 yards on 25-of-38 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

While Penix Jr. is a mobile quarterback, he didn't hurt the Spartans with his legs in either of those contests, combining for negative-12 rushing yards on just three carries.

Still, Michigan State struggled a bit with containment last week against Akron quarterback DJ Irons' mobility, before the Zips QB eventually left the game due to injury.

So far in 2022, Penix Jr. is completing nearly 70 percent of his throws (46-of-66), and has thrown for 628 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He's also rushed for 27 yards on four carries, and has yet to be sacked this season.

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Michigan State's defense has played well so far this season, but the competition level goes up this week in Seattle.

2.) Keep Pounding The Run Game

The Spartans are currently averaging 228.5 rushing yards per game, albeit against MAC competition.

Still, tailback Jalen Berger has gone over 100 yards rushing in each of the first two weeks, and he looks like the steady, reliable back that Michigan State needed. Additionally, Jarek Broussard provides a nice change-of-pace option for the Spartans out of the backfield, and he's been solid so far as well.

Washington has defended the run pretty well so far in 2022, but that's been against Kent State and Portland State. A year ago, the Huskies ranked 108th in the country in defending the run.

If Michigan State's run game can continue to be the foundation of the Spartans' offense, it will open up play-action and allow Payton Thorne to take shots downfield to his talented crop of receivers.

Speaking of the Spartans' signal-caller...

3.) Payton Thorne Must Improve His Accuracy

Thorne has struggled with his accuracy during the first two weeks of the season, much to the surprise of many fans and those covering the team.

The redshirt junior set a Michigan State single-season record a season ago with 27 touchdown passes, and threw for the third-most yards in a single season in Spartan football history.

Yet, Thorne hasn't looked quite as sharp so far in 2022. There were games a year ago where he struggled with his accuracy for a quarter or a half, but that came against stronger competition than Western Michigan or Akron.

So far, Thorne is completing just 57.7 percent of his throws (30-of-52), down from the 60.4 completion percentage that he has a year ago. Thorne has also already thrown three interceptions this season, against four touchdowns.

This is cause for concern, but not cause for panic. Michigan State has won both of its first two games fairly easily, even with Thorne's struggles. However, the quarterback will need to improve his play going forward as the Spartans' schedule strengthens significantly in the coming weeks.