Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne finally found his groove in Michigan State’s 39-28 loss to Washington. Despite the loss, he was more consistent, put his body on the line, wasn’t afraid to make big plays and even found a reliable target in sophomore wide receiver Keon Coleman.
Thorne threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were caught by Coleman, who led MSU’s receivers with 116 yards. He stepped up big time in the absence of fifth-year wide receiver Jayden Reed who didn’t travel to Seattle due to injury.
In addition to Coleman, Thorne likes what he saw from redshirt junior wide receiver Tre Mosley and fifth-year tight end Daniel Barker.
“Between those three guys I thought we had a few guys step up today,” Thorne said. “It was good to see. I love those guys and they came to play today. They played hard and they played tough.”
Mosley made five catches for 64 yards, but none more spectacular than a 26-yard fourth-down touchdown ball he won in the air while fighting through double coverage.
The Spartans had to rely on Thorne and the passing game due to the team being unable to get the running game going. After a monster game against Akron, the running back duo of redshirt sophomore Jalen Berger and fifth-year Jarek Broussard were unable to get anything going against the Huskies, which is a real concern for MSU considering Washington's rush defense did present a special threat heading into the game.
Going into Saturday's game, the Huskies were allowing 114 rushing yards per game, but managed to hold MSU to just 42. The result could have been much worse for the Spartans had Thorne not improved greatly from his first two outings.
All offensive progress however, was overshadowed by the return of the 2021 defense.
After spending the entire offseason focused on improving the worst pass defense in the nation, the Spartans gave up 397 yards and four touchdowns to quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
The inability to stop the Washington offense prohibited the slowly surging MSU offense from even taking the field.
“We weren’t able to get the ball to the offense enough in the first half,” Head Coach Mel Tucker said. “There was a stretch in there where I think we ran four plays on offense. When you don’t play complementary football then you just can’t beat a good team.”
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay echoed the need for more offensive drives and how the defense failed to give them more opportunities.
"We just gotta get the offense back on the field," Haladay said. "We need to do better at that, just gotta get the offense the ball."
In the wake of multiple defensive injuries to players like junior linebacker Darius Snow, fifth-year safety Xavier Henderson and now redshirt senior defensive tackle Jacob Slade, the team has adapted the “next man up” mentality.
However, there wasn’t a single man on defense that stepped up to make plays Saturday night against the Huskies. The defensive line couldn't force their way to Penix Jr., creating the perfect environment for Washington's passing game to thrive against MSU's abysmal secondary.
Senior linebacker turned defensive end Jacoby Windmon dominated the first two weeks of play by shutting down the pass game, but he remained quiet against the Huskies. He finished with just three total tackles.
But if MSU is looking for any sort of silver lining from Saturday's disaster, it starts with Thorne and Coleman. Coleman again was Thorne's go-to guy and has received a team-high 29 targets through three games. Both of the duo's touchdowns Saturday night were highlight reel plays as the two got into a rhthym once Michigan State dug itself a 22-0 hole and many had already tuned out the game.
The first came on a fourth-down in the waning moments of the first half with Thorne rolling out to his left and Coleman making a diving catch. The second was on a fourth quarter 33-yard lob in-stride -- a throw Thorne was frequenlty missing in the first two games.
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The Spartans will have to go back to the drawing board this week if they hope to bounce back from this loss and begin Big Ten play against a very good Minnesota team next Saturday.
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