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Grading the Game: Michigan State

Lots of good,

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

Pass Offense - A

Michael Penix could do no wrong Saturday night. His 397 yard performance is a top-10 single game in UW history, not to mention tossing four touchdowns while not getting sacked or turning it over. He executed and commanded the offense masterfully, seeing the field clearly, finding nine different receivers on the night. Two throws in particular stood out: his 3rd-down laser to Wayne Taulapapa at the pylon was an aggressive, accurate strike to extend the lead to three scores. Second, his pass to Ja’Lynn Polk in the end zone just before halftime. He pump faked to freeze the defense, rolled left and found Polk running towards the sideline. It was a beautiful piece of red zone improvisation.

Of course, Penix wasn’t alone. The offensive line looked as dominant in pass protection against a Michigan State team who had been leading the nation in sacks, as they did against Kent State and Portland State. Polk and Jalen McMillan were constantly open and Rome Odunze had a few big catches, including a long 3rd-down conversion. Polk’s three touchdown catch night was the first WR hat trick since Dante Pettis in 2017. Twas a good night.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Rush Offense - B-

Clearly, this team is going to be built around the pass. Outside the red zone, the run game was somewhat effective in complimenting the pass game, but only Cam Davis got loose for an explosive run. The coaches kept the rotation tight, opting for Cam Davis and Wayne Taulapapa, who combined for 29 carries and 105 yards - just 3.6 yards per carry. It didn’t impact the game, but Washington could not rely on running the ball consistently.

Pass Defense - C+

After a shaky first two games, Payton Thorne had a pretty good night in Husky Stadium - 323 yards, 3 touchdowns, 7.7 YPA. But the way Washington pounced early and built a big lead, it ultimately didn’t matter. His stat line also would have looked much different had Washington been able to make a play on his two fourth-down touchdown passes. Both times Washington nearly took down Thorne in the backfield only for him to throw a pinpoint pass to a wide receiver who made a great play. But at some point, Washington defensive backs - corners in particular - need to start causing incompletions more consistently against good players. Mishael Powell and Dom Hampton allowed Thorne to complete 14/15 passes when targeting them. However, Julius Irvin did look likely and had a nice interception.

Thorne’s final touchdown is the cost of bringing the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage - Michigan State WR Keon Coleman found himself matched up against Cam Bright with no help over the top. To Bright’s credit he was on his hip, but a middle linebacker matched up with a receiver sprinting deep downfield is a poor match up.

Rush Defense - A

Has to be the most surprising performance of the game, right? There’s lots of talent in this front seven but I did not anticipate them completely bottling up Michigan State’s physical run game. The Spartan coaches didn’t stick to the ground game much, but when they did, it was totally ineffective, to the tune of 1.7 yards per carry from running backs Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger. The highlight was the safety early in the game, snuffing out any bit of momentum Michigan State may have gained after stonewalling Washington on the goal line.

Shoutout to Sav’ell Smalls who secured what was hopefully the first of many tackles-for-loss to come in his Husky career. Alex Cook continues to show up in the box and is quietly putting together a very nice season (15 tackles, 2.5 for loss). In fact, the entire secondary contributed defending the run - Kamren Fabiculanan and Mishael Powell made 5 solo tackles a piece.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams - B

Special teams was...fine. No major gaffs, but nothing spectacular either. P Jack McCallister had opportunities to pin Michigan State deep but couldn’t keep punts out of the end zone. He seems to have a big leg, but at the moment hasn’t shown an ability drop punts deep. Kick coverage seems better after a couple shakes weeks, with Carson Bruener and Davon Banks laying some big hits.

Coaching - A

How about that for a year one statement victory? Michael Penix now leads Power 5 quarterbacks in 20+ yard completions with eleven. How many did Washington have last year, negative four? Speaking of last year, goal line play calling was a little too John Donovan-esque for my taste, but overall OC Ryan Grubb and Kalen DeBoer are painting masterpieces with their game plans. And in case you missed it, others took notice, too:

The challenge now is avoiding a let down against a Stanford team that has given the Huskies plenty of trouble in recent history. Go Dawgs.