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Three things that stand out about Michigan State, and what Washington can do about it

Here’s some thoughts of varying value.

Richmond v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

So far we’ve got two games down for most college football teams. Have you watched much Michigan State this season? Me neither! Is something I would say if you asked me that a week ago.

But now I have, and have learned a bit, and am delighted to pass on these nuggets of absolute genius (she said, sarcastically).

Here they are:

Michigan State hasn’t dominated the line of scrimmage on defense against weaker competition, but they are quite good flowing from sideline-to-sideline

This I think is actually a pretty interesting component of the Spartans.

Despite the defensive line not getting a lot of push from what I’ve seen, the way their linebackers and safeties flow laterally and close up the holes or cover bootlegs is gonna be kind of a pain in the butt for Washington. (Well, the first part, the bootleg part won’t matter so much.) This is particularly true when you consider that Washington’s offensive line has been equally meh at the run.

So yeah: UW’s running backs are probably gonna have an ironically meh day too, although I hope we’re able to see some between-the-tackles rushes where the Husky line is able to establish at least some dominance. Keeping things mostly north and south should hopefully minimize the impact of MSU’s safeties’ and linebackers’ strengths here.

One thing that I find really intriguing about this, however, is the emergence of the Dawgs’ receivers in the running game and how they’ve been running sweeps and end arounds that in theory Michigan State would be relatively well-equipped to neutralize. On the other hand, those tend to rely on blocking by skill players far to the outside instead of the offensive line flowing particularly far, and it’s the latter scenario that MSU’s linebackers and safeties thrive in.

Either way, I think this might be the thing I’m most interested in seeing play out on Saturday simply because there’s a lot of little factors here that could determine who wins this mini-battle.

Their quarterback has clear weaknesses

First off, let me get this out of the way: MSU quarterback Noah Kim actually throws a pretty good deep ball. A pretty pretty deep ball, if you will. But he is not reliable — similar to the majority of college quarterbacks — on so many mid-range, deep-mid, and shallow routes outside the hashmarks.

Go route? Fantastic. Anything requiring power and timing and lateral rotation to throw out wide? Mmmmmno.

What tends to happen from what I’ve seen, is that when Kim has to throw outside the hashmarks, the ball tends to loft, have minimal velocity, and sail well off-target.

I couldn’t quite tell if it’s that turning himself in those directions prevents him from getting full integration from his lower body, losing most torque, and then not having the pure arm strength to deliver. Regardless, there’s some level of arm-or-wrist strength issue as demonstrated by his inability to throw a powerful, shallow-parabola pass (similar to the issues I pointed out about Jake Browning especially after his 2016 shoulder injury against Oregon State) and how that makes it so difficult to be on target in even mildly adverse physical conditions.

Because of that, much of their success in the passing game so far has been on shorter passes and bootlegs; until well into the second half against Central Michigan, I felt like I hadn’t really seen any throw that made me go “Okay so that would be an issue.”

At that point the MSU offensive gameplan liberaled up a bit — they entered the second half with the riveting, Iowa-esque score of 3-0 — where they threw some “f*ck it, go deep” into the mix and that actually looked pretty good, particularly because some of their pass-catchers are pretty impressive in contested situations.

The good news for Washington is that deep completions score fast. And the faster the game goes and the more drives each offense gets, the more things favor Washington; we know their offense is more potent than MSU’s, and that subsequently each drive will on average score incrementally more points. The more of those you’re able to squeeze out of 60 minutes... you get it.

On the other side of things, if you’re Washington you can’t let Michigan State drive down the field inefficiently — as counterintuitive as that could seem if you don’t think too hard about it — chopping you up one seven yard pass and four four yard runs at a time. And because the Spartan offense is so inefficient in comparison, that’s the more likely scenario.

You hope we’ll see UW clog up the mid-levels and force Kim to make not just deeper throws, but deeper or even just vaguely mid-range throws that are outside the hash marks where he really struggles. Essentially, make the bet that despite the days of the Pete Kwiatkowski death row secondaries being behind us, our corners and safeties in pass coverage are at least marginally better than Kim’s only option.

On a related note, even a bit of life from the pass rush and I really really don’t see a way how Michigan State’s offense can keep up.

Their runners take advantage of poor angles

This is going to be Washington’s biggest issue on defense as far as I can tell. They’ve had struggles maintaining a consistent threat through the air, so their most productive roles relative to positional average are on the ground.

And here, they’ll take advantage of poor angles. Which Washington’s players behind the line have been... known to do.

On one hand, even with below-average angles and tackling, it’s hard to imagine that style of offense keeping up with Michael Penix and co. On the other, for the reasons I mentioned above, if Michigan State can hang around with this approach in many ways it’s a worst case scenario kind of offense for Washington.

Obviously relying on the running game minimizes drives. Minimizing drives favors MSU. Don’t need to rehash that since it was just freshly hashed like, 200 words ago.

All in all, it’s hard to know all we need to about Washington and especially Michigan State because neither have played a team yet with comparable personnel, talent-wise. That being said, these are the factors that stood out the most to me while catching up on MSU, particularly because they each relate so concretely to Washington’s philosophy, strengths, and weaknesses.

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.