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Three Up, Three Down: Michigan State's late rally falls short vs. Washington

The Spartans got off to much too slow of a start to steal a win on the West Coast

Michigan State's struggles on the West Coast continued tonight with a 39-28 loss to Washington in Seattle.

The Spartans got knocked back on their heels early in this one, and while things got a little interesting late, MSU was never able to recover from the bombardment they received in the first half. 

Michigan State simply had no answers for the Huskies' explosive offense, led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Washington carved up the Spartans' defense to the tune of 503 yards of total offense, and the Huskies converted 7-of-11 third down conversions through the first three quarters.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan State was never able to establish its run game and the offense bogged down as a result. The Spartans' pass game came alive late, which resulted in MSU finishing with 365 total yards.

Three Down

1. Spartans' secondary gets torched again

It was the biggest weakness throughout 2021, it was a matter of concern throughout the offseason, and Saturday night proved that Michigan State's secondary still cannot defend against the pass.

Penix Jr. had a field day against the Spartan secondary, throwing for 397 yards and four touchdowns while completing 24-of-40 pass attempts. Most of those yards came in the first three quarters, as Husky wide receivers ran open up and down the field. 

It didn't matter who was out there for Michigan State — Chester Kimbrough, Ameer Speed, Angelo Grose — the Spartans could not slow Washington's pass game down until the fourth quarter, when the game was mostly out of reach.

I don't know where the coaching staff goes from here. Mel Tucker's background is that of an excellent defensive backs coach, and he's been coaching the cornerbacks personally this season. Michigan State is going to have to find a way to scheme around their deficiencies on the back end, because opponents are going to continue to attack them.

2. MSU's O-line was totally overmatched

Michigan State offensive line was completely out-classed in the trenches against the Huskies tonight. The Spartans managed just 64 sack-adjusted rushing yards on 27 carries, an average of just 2.4 yards per carry.

In addition, Thorne was sacked twice on the night and faced pressure on several of his dropbacks throughout the game.

While the secondary was the biggest concern for Michigan State's defense, the offensive line was the biggest question mark on offense, and tonight did little to alleviate those concerns.

3. A brutal day for Jarek Broussard

The transfer from Colorado had a rough go of it today. On Michigan State's first possession, there was a miscommunication between him and Thorne, which resulted in a big loss on third-and-one and a punt. Thorne turned to handoff to Broussard, but the tailback went into pass protection instead.

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Then, Broussard lost his footing in the end zone when the Spartans were backed up at their own goal line, which resulted in a safety. Offensive guard Matt Carrick was pushed back into Broussard's path on the play, which caused the tailback to go down.

Michigan State scored a touchdown right out of halftime to cut their deficit to 29-14, but Broussard then dropped an easy pass from Thorne that cost MSU the two-point conversion. The fifth-year senior ended his day with three rushing yards on four carries.

Three Up

1. Payton Thorne left it all on the field

Thorne struggled with his accuracy against Western Michigan and Akron, but the redshirt junior was dialed in against Washington and did everything he could to try to keep the Spartans in this game. Thorne completed 30-of-42 attempts for 323 yards and three touchdowns against the Huskies. 

Thorne had a couple misfires late in obvious pass situations, but the high throws that plagued him early this season were no where to be found. It was a disappointing result overall for MSU, but they can take encouragement from that.

One thing that has never been questioned is Thorne's toughness, and he put that on display throughout the night as well. Whether it be popping up after every sack he took, or lower his (non-throwing) shoulder to fight for extra yards on a third down scramble, the Spartan quarterback left everything he had on the field in Seattle.

2. Keon Coleman is living up to the hype

Alongside Thorne, the sophomore wide receiver did about all he could for the Spartans in this one.

Coleman was Thorne's favorite target on the day, finishing with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a pair of two-point conversion catches as well. Coleman had another touchdown catch wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty.

Through three weeks, the sophomore wide receiver is living up to the hype he garnered throughout the offseason. The Spartans were missing their primary pass-catcher tonight in Jayden Reed, but Michigan State has another stud on the outside in Coleman.

3. Fourth down play-calling

Admittedly, we're digging for one last positive takeaway here, but I was impressed with Michigan State's fourth down play calls and execution.

Tucker decided in the second quarter that the Spartans needed to go for it on fourth down every time they were close to midfield or in Washington territory, and Michigan State had a lot of success in these situations.

The Spartans scored two touchdowns on fourth down, including on their first second half possession — a deep, back-shoulder throw from Thorne to Tre Mosley — and finished 4-of-6 on fourth down conversions. The second failed fourth down conversion came in a tough, 4th-and-10 situation right at the end of the game.

It's a small consolation prize given the way tonight's game went, but offensive coordinator Jay Johnson showed once again that he's an excellent play-caller on fourth down.