After a couple of home games against weak opponents, it seemed as though Michigan State’s defense was prepared for a road test against a talented PAC-12 team.
Then, in the primetime 7:30 p.m. slot on ABC, a charged-up Washington offense led by Michael Penix Jr. picked apart Michigan State’s defense, tearing the secondary to shreds with explosive play after explosive play.
“We knew it was going to be a game of explosives," Head Coach Mel Tucker said. "If you look at their first two games, almost all of their scoring drives included explosive gains. We needed to eliminate explosive gains and we weren’t able to do that.”
A season ago, MSU’s pass defense ranked dead last in college football, giving up an average of 324.8 yards per game.
In its first real test of the 2022 season, this year’s defensive unit gave up 397 passing yards.
Washington simply schemed around the Spartans best defenders, creating mismatches and picking on the Spartans’ biggest defensive liabilities. Just a few minutes into the game, it was clear that the Huskies were targeting senior cornerback Chester Kimbrough consistently. On 32 snaps, he was targeted seven times, giving up six completions and 102 yards. Man coverage couldn’t cut it against the Huskies -- it seemed as though every one-on-one play went Washington’s way in the first half.
“We had a matchup issue that they took advantage of. It was obvious, it showed up early in the game,” Tucker said.
Mixing in less experienced cornerbacks like sixth-year senior Ronald Williams II and redshirt junior Justin White in the second half did not do much to slow down Washington’s receivers either.
Michigan State’s secondary is going to receive the brunt of the blame for Saturday night’s fiasco, and rightfully so. However, the Spartans front-seven, which looked rock solid in its two previous showings, failed to make any sort of impact against the Huskies.
MSU ended the night without a single sack. The team didn't even have a QB hurry. The Spartan defense earned just one tackle for loss on the night, courtesy of senior defensive end Khris Bogle.
“We weren’t able to hit the quarterback enough, and we weren’t able to put enough pressure on him,” Tucker said. “We weren’t really able to do anything to get him out of rhythm, and we let him off the hook with some big plays.”
Even senior linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon disappeared against the Huskies. In his first two games, Windmon’s stats were downright elite, highlighted by 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. However, against the Huskies, he finished with just three tackles, only one of those being solo.
Sure, Michigan State had some key figures missing on defense. Junior linebacker Darius Snow and senior safety Xavier Henderson, both starters, have been out since Week 1. Before kickoff, it was announced that redshirt senior defensive tackle Jacob Slade would also be missing from the lineup.
However, It’s hard to imagine that any one of these players could have made a real difference on a night when the entire defense looked way out of its depth. Senior Kendell Brooks has been extremely solid assuming Henderson’s role in the secondary and Michigan State’s linebackers have been strong in Snow’s absence -- injuries are not to blame.
So who is to blame for the failures of the defense? Well, fans have already decided that MSU’s defensive woes are a result of scheming. Defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton has taken plenty of heat on social media and the flaming doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
However, the blame for Saturday night can’t fall on just one coordinator. To anyone keeping a close eye on the secondary, it was clear that Washington’s receivers were just way too much for Michigan State’s defenders. The talent gap reared its ugly head yet again for MSU, as the secondary, especially the cornerbacks, struggled to deal with the raw athleticism of Washington’s receiving core.
After a deceivingly good start, Michigan State got a reality check Saturday evening. Until the personnel and/or scheming is altered drastically, it looks as though Michigan State’s defense is back where it was a year ago.
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