Andrew Berg (2-0 SU, 0-2 ATS)
I hate trying to pick against the spread when a game is heavily weighted by off-field variables. This line opened at 13 and the public has bet it up by a FG in reaction to Mel Tucker’s suspension amid a sexual harassment investigation. The public seems to agree that the media storm will be too much for the Spartans to focus on the task at hand and they will underperform. Couldn’t you also argue that they will rally around interim associate HC Mark Dantonio and prove that they’re better than the mess going on around them? It’s impossible to know before the game, which makes it much more difficult to predict what happens on the field.
In terms of what we do know about the teams, the advantage should point to the Dawgs. The Spartans are untested against Central Michigan (who gave up 42 points to FCS New Hampshire in their only other game) and Richmond. The offense went through a total revamp after graduations and transfers, but Noah Kim has performed well at QB through the first two against sub-par opposition, as has RB Nathan Carter. Of the two, I’m especially concerned about Carter due to Kim’s ball-security issues. Washington held up reasonably well against Boise’s run-first approach. It will be essentially to make some negative plays to force Kim to throw the ball downfield and possibly force turnovers.
The bright spot for UW is that their own offense has much more explosive firepower than MSU’s ground-and-pound preference. MSU hangs its hat on a defense that is improved over the 2022 vintage, but that version also looked better before it ran into MIchael Penix. I’m confident that UW’s big-play ability will still be present and the points on the board will force the Spartans to get a little more daring with their own play-calling. That’s a good outcome for the Dawgs, and a road win in this match-up is a huge accomplishment, but whether they get to the 16 number feels like it rests on whether MSU has the heart to fight back after taking a punch in the mouth, especially after a challenging week. I don’t know the answer and I doubt anyone else does, either.
Washington- 40, Michigan State- 28
Mark Schafer (2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A strong, but flawed Husky team is off for a road clash against a team playing on natural grass, with an interim head coach. Should be an easy win right?
Take a deep breath, and allow me to tell you why this won’t be like ASU last year. For one, the game isn’t at 12:30 in Tempe, it will most likely be very mild, but cloudy in East Lansing. Yes, I checked the weather report. This is a more experienced Husky defense than last year, with more talent at DB. Even if Asa isn’t going to go, Dom Hampton can pick up the slack, and Jabbar Muhammad has proven that he can be that playmaking corner the Huskies looked for last year. However, I am less confident than ever in the rush defense. Nate Carter is a very good player and a real weapon and it’s going to be incumbent on our linebackers and edge rushers to keep him bottled up and in check if we want to win this thing.
The offense needs to continue what it has done well in the Deboer era, execute in the passing game. While I want the running game to do well, Dillon Johnson is going to need to be the back that the coaching staff wants him to be, and with that, he should hopefully elevate the play of those around him.
Overall, this one is going to hinge on what the Dawgs look like coming out. If MSU’s offense comes out flat, and the Husky offense can capitalize early, then it should be a comfortable win. If the Husky defense doesn’t execute, then we could be in for a long day. I’m shooting for something in the middle of the two predictions.
Washington- 42, Michigan State- 31
Gabey Lucas (2-0 SU, 0-2 ATS)
First thing’s first: Despite having roughly comparable raw talent levels (I believe Washington’s is slightly higher but not quite sure), UW is clearly the better team. Of course, the logical part of my brain recognizes that and so goes “so we should win,” and then the rest of my brain says “actually not so fast.” And when you ask it “why no” it just says “no.”
Now I ~know~ that’s just because being a fan of a team means you’re constantly in some state of mild to extreme anguish that overrides any logic. Whatever.
The only thing that does make the logical part of my brain genuinely a bit apprehensive was the total lack of pass rush against Tulsa. Even a bit of pressure or having to throw on the move, and Noah Kim tends to loft the ball and be off target especially outside the hashmarks, but the Dawgs had sooo little against a much worse team. If that happens ~and~ MSU is able to slow the game down because they recognize that on average UW will have a greater points-per-drive margin, then I could see them hanging around longer than they’d otherwise have any business doing.
Otherwise, though it’s really hard to picture the Spartans being able to keep up with Washington’s offense for a full 60. The irony of course is that, like I mentioned above, their own inefficiency actually gives them a better shot at it because a full drive down the field for MSU would take up so much more time and subsequently result in fewer possessions over a full game for both offenses. But sustaining 10-12+ play drives for six, every drive, consistently, over four quarters? There’s a reason modern offenses aren’t predicated on doing that.
Washington- 42, Michigan State- 28
Max Vrooman (2-0 SU, 0-2 ATS)
I’ll be honest that this game has worried me for a while. Washington has to travel across several time zones and play on a dreaded true grass field. After the Huskies got out to a hot start against Michigan State last year, the Spartans made the final outcome slightly closer than UW fans would’ve liked. Factor in the potential of the Dawgs getting overconfident based on that game’s first half and I’ll admit to being nervous.
Then the Mel Tucker situation got thrown on top of it. We saw Washington soil the bed playing at Arizona State last year immediately after head coach Herm Edwards had been fired. Tucker is merely suspended rather than fired (although it appears to only be a matter of time) but it’s certainly not out of the question that Michigan State rallies while Washington gets another reason to overlook the Spartans.
Michigan State’s competition level hasn’t been great so far but they also haven’t been challenged much. New starting QB Noah Kim has generally surpassed expectations showing the ability to evade sacks while taking care of the ball. He is second among all P5 quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus’ Big Time Throw rate metric. The receiving options are nowhere near as scary as last year when they had Keon Coleman, Jayden Reed, and Germie Bernard but they should be able to move the ball.
Connecticut transfer RB Noah Carter isn’t Kenneth Walker but he seems to be a clear upgrade over the Berger/Broussard combo that MSU rolled out last season. It’ll be a challenge for Washington defense to limit the Spartans unless Bralen Trice returns to last season’s form.
Meanwhile, the Michigan State pass rush has been dominant in their first two contests even though they’ll likely be without star Jacoby Windmon in this game. This will be a huge test for Washington’s reshuffled offensive line, especially if Matteo Mele isn’t able to go.
I had every intention of picking this to be a close game. The spread seems way too high for a road game against a power conference opponent who should turn out to be decent at the least. But I had the same feeling against Boise State and they made me look foolish. Washington was any of 3 separate plays away from covering last week and I’m going to go out on a limb and say we see a re-focused Husky squad live up to the hype. Here’s to listening to your gut and ignoring your brain.
Washington- 48, Michigan State- 27
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 4, Michigan State- 0
Against the Spread (16.5): Washington- 1, Michigan State- 3
Average Final Score: Washington- 43.0, Michigan State- 28.5