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Three Things We Learned: Michigan State

Expectations have been raised, the goal-line running game...needs work, and more struggles against scrambles

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Michigan State at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. It’s A Very Good Place To Start

After three games I think we can pretty decisively say that Washington’s offensive game planning has been masterful. After carving up Michigan State in the first half the Huskies have now scored on 14 of 16 drives in the first half of their games. That includes exactly 4 TDs in each of the games.

Points on their own though don’t even quite tell the story of the dominance. Washington has gained exactly 90% of the total yards available to them during the first halves. And over half of those missing 10% are from Michael Penix’s lone interception this season. Except for that miscue the Huskies have either scored a touchdown or gained at least 46 yards on every other drive. That’s an unheard level of sustained excellence. Just about everything OC Ryan Grubb has called has worked. All the props to them and Penix for executing.

That heading also works to talk about the state of the program as a whole. Michigan State was a little overrated as the #11 team in the country and will probably end up somewhere between 20 and 30 once things level out. Going up 3 TDs on them at the start of the game is still extremely impressive even against the #30 team in the country. We shouldn’t expect this Husky squad to now be a potential CFP contender but the non-con slate showed it’s reasonable to expect this team to contend for a Pac-12 title game berth. That’s pretty darn good in the first season under Kalen DeBoer.

2. Running Into A Brick Wall

While things were mostly easy on offense there was also a glaring issue that cropped up: the short yardage running game. It seemed clear that the Huskies wanted to be able to show that they could punch the ball in once they got down to the 1-yard line. Especially since the Spartans were without their starting DT Jacob Slade. Instead, over and over again Washington was turned away. The Huskies ran the ball inside of MSU’s 3-yard line 11 times and only scored the TD once! That’s an astounding level of inefficiency.

Gameonpaper.com shows just how incompetent the Husky running game ended up. The Dawgs ran for -0.43 EPA per rush on Saturday. That means that essentially every two times that Washington ran the ball it took 1 point away from their total. While there were likely some missed opportunities from the running backs, those dismal numbers are a bigger reflection on the offensive line. Late in the game we saw injuries to Nate Kalepo and Troy Fautanu. The Dawgs were already without Jaxson Kirkland. Maybe getting a little healthier on the line will help. But whenever UW ran the ball in a situation that MSU was expecting the run it didn’t turn out well for Washington.

This was also the first game where Washington shortened the rotation at running back. We only saw Cam Davis and Wayne Taulapapa. Each made at least one nice play in the passing game but only Davis on the final play of the game had any kind of an explosive run. Husky fans are left to wonder though whether Richard Newton might’ve done a better job on those goal line opportunities. An extra TD late in the game and the inability to run the clock out conventionally doesn’t matter with how far in front you’d be.

3. Scramble Drill

Washington’s first two games may have been against lower level competition but they were also against dual threat quarterback. Both opposing QBs had success running the ball particularly when scrambling. Payton Thorne is capable of scrambling similar to former Husky QB Jake Browning but wasn’t known as the most fleet of foot player. Still he was able to run the ball 6 times for 50 yards including a 21 yard gain on 4th down during the 2nd half which kept a MSU touchdown drive alive. The inability to keep contain by the defensive front when going into pass rush mode is officially going to be a major problem in every game this year.

At the same time it was an incredibly impressive job by the Husky run defense against Michigan State’s running backs. The duo of Berger and Broussard each entered the game averaging better than 5 yards per carry. Instead against the Huskies they repeatedly failed to find open running room and combined for 30 rushing yards on 14 carries. Washington struggled with their running game but Michigan State was also terrible at -0.2 EPA per rush. Tuli Letuligasenoa in particular deserves credit for resetting the line of scrimmage and looking like the dominant Washington nose tackles we got spoiled on for most of the Chris Petersen era. After last season’s ineptitude in that phase of the ball it was a welcome sight to see.