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Three Things We Learned: Michigan State

This team is for real (whatever that means), surviving defensive injuries, and what a day for the WR room

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Washington at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. What Dreams Are Made Of

Usually the focus in this piece is on smaller details about the team rather than the big picture. But the magnitude of Washington’s victory on Saturday makes it hard to not think about the macro level.

Washington was up 35-0 at halftime with better than 400 total yards. Technically the Huskies got outscored in the second half but from a yardage and success rate standpoint they still dominated after the break.

The Huskies put up more total yards of offense than any previous opponent in Michigan State history. This is for a team that plays Ohio State and Michigan every year. None of them had an offensive display quite like Washington did. Oh yeah, and it was the 2nd most yards all-time in Washington history only behind the Corey Dillon San Jose State game.

Everyone knew there was a chance that Michigan State would fall flat given the turmoil going on within their program. That’s why the betting line swelled to Washington -17 at points despite most advanced metrics pegging the margin between 10 and 14 points. No one though saw a beatdown coming like the Dawgs put on this weekend.

We saw several of the top teams struggle on Saturday. Georgia was down 2 scores at halftime to South Carolina before coming back. Alabama went through multiple QB changes to only beat South Florida by 14. Florida State required 17 penalties going against Boston College to barely escape with a win. If Washington had required all 4 quarters to finally pull away from Michigan State in their first road game (on grass) then it would’ve been mostly understandable.

Instead, Washington was one of two top-ten teams that absolutely took care of business (along with LSU) on the road versus a solid opponent. It was the kind of win (and weekend in general) that has fans dreaming of not just a Pac-12 championship but a legitimate shot at being competitive in the College Football Playoff. There’s a long way to go but I’m not going to tell any fans to tone down the optimism at this point.

2. Safety Dance

Husky fans were completely justified to be slightly freaked out when it was announced that Kamren Fabiculanan was unable to play with a surprise injury. Washington was already without starting safety Asa Turner and stacking injuries in the secondary was what killed the Dawgs last year in their losses to UCLA and Arizona State.

Those absences meant that Vincent Nunley made his first career start in just his second ever college game. It turned out that the absences didn’t really hurt the Huskies at all. Michigan State QB Noah Kim finished just 12/31 passing and averaged a paltry 4.4 yards per attempt.

It would be great if we could attribute that stat line for Michigan State entirely to Nunley’s play. To be honest, I almost never noticed him during the game despite Nunley playing the most stats of any defender per Pro Football Focus. Nunley finished the game with just one tackle and per PFF was targeted only one time on an incompletion.

But safety is a spot where it’s not the end of the world if you don’t show up on the stat sheet and go unnoticed. The front seven contained the run game such that there weren’t running backs getting to the second level necessitating clean up. There also weren’t big gains in the passing game where a free safety had to come over to deny a long pass. The coaching staff will be happy that they were able to survive a week playing their 3rd string at a position.

It was certainly helped though by Noah Kim’s poor play. Washington defense played about as well as you could help and that helped. But Kim looked skittish and was consistently missing on throws, often by a wide margin. We’re still waiting to see what the Husky D may do when they face an above average passer. I have certainly have the road game at Arizona in 2 weeks circled on that front.

3. No Contest

Last week I noted that we probably wouldn’t see sloppy play from Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan like that again. Odunze dropped two passes while McMillan dropped one and fumbled one. It certainly seemed like Washington’s receivers were determined to make sure that didn’t happen again.

Michael Penix Jr. played a phenomenal game to be sure. But he surely got a lot of help from the receivers on a few of the biggest gains. First, Ja’Lynn Polk rose up and high-pointed the ball and held on to it despite the safety hitting him while in midair. They don’t have NexGen Stats odds of a completion like they do in the NFL but it’s reasonable to think there are very few receivers in the game who make that play.

Then with Washington backed up to their own 5-yard line, Penix let it rip and simply put the ball up for grabs 50 yards downfield while targeting Odunze against a corner about 5 inches shorter than him. Rome rewarded that faith by going up and boxing out the defender for the giant gain.

All told, Pro Football Focus charted that Washington had 6 contested catch opportunities and brought in 5 of them (3/4 for Odunze, 2/2 for Polk). Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb does a tremendous job scheming open the Husky receivers. But when the Dawgs also reel in 80%+ of their contested catches? That’s when the offense becomes well and truly unstoppable like we saw on Saturday.